Will O’Brien has been a member of the Project HOME community for almost 25 years. He serves as Special Projects Coordinator.
Sometimes, upon making a new acquaintance, I get the typical question about what kind of work I do. And I obligingly give a brief description of Project HOME. Not infrequently, the response carries with it a subtle or not so subtle insinuation that such work must be hard, challenging, and even depressing.
It is true, I suppose, that working in the field of homelessness and poverty can be construed as difficult and even overwhelming. After all, all of us who work at Project HOME have, in a sense, chosen to put ourselves in proximity to deep human brokenness and struggle. In particular, our case workers and outreach workers engage on a daily basis with profoundly wounded persons, which is often stressful and emotionally demanding. Meanwhile, we deal with the “big picture” challenge: Even with the success of our programs and services, the scale of the crises of homelessness and poverty is daunting, and political and social progress are frustratingly slow. But I would never describe this work as depressing. Far from it – there is a tremendous privilege and even a joy in being part of this community and this work.
This past Monday, we held one is a series of “inspirational community meetings,” where residents and staff from some of our sites come together to encourage, inspire, and share with each other. All of the residents present were men who were in recovery. As they will be the first to tell you, they have gone through experiences of intense struggle, deep despair, chaos and violence – almost unthinkable harshness and hardship.
“The word that is on my heart today is gratitude,” one resident shared – to a chorus of nods from an enthusiastic amen chorus. “I used to be a dope fiend,” said another resident. “Now I am a hope fiend!” The men shared success stories, compelling insights, and hard-earned wisdom. They spoke of a new hope and direction in their lives, of the power of a second chance, of God making a way out of no way, of fulfilling what would once have been impossible dreams of schooling and decent employment and purpose in life. They expressed their love for each other, their support of each other in the ongoing journey of recovery.
I could probably work at many jobs, but where else could I work where I am in touch with miracles every day? Miracles of healing and transformation, miracles of unknown strength and unimaginable possibilities. I am blessed to see the most astonishing manifestations of the human spirit – grounded in deep truthfulness, abounding in grace.
Yes, there is still daily struggle for many of our residents, and for all the members of our community. Yes, the daily vulnerabilities and fragilities can be trying, tiring. And yes, the vast realities of poverty and homelessness, the scale of human suffering and injustice, can feel overwhelming. But these are part of the work, part of this mission and calling.
And it is joyful calling. My heart is stronger, and I believe I am empowered to live more authentically and lovingly because of it. Maybe I, too, am a hope fiend.