My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am a psychology student at Florida International University. I volunteered at Lotus House on March 11, 2020 and this is how it went:
Lotus House is a women’s shelter located in the heart of Overtown. This organization doesn’t only house homeless women and children, but it also supports them, hands them the resources they need, and gives them hope. Lotus House offers health care, mental health support, healing programs, education, assistance with benefits, and training to its residents. The organization also provides its residents with clothes and meals. These disadvantaged people are cared for, supported, and encouraged to grow and blossom. They are given the tools needed to slowly heal from their past traumas and become their self-actualized selves.
My Miami in Miami course professor, John Bailly, had the great idea of dedicating one of our class meetings volunteering at Lotus House. Professor Bailly doesn’t only teach us about the history of Miami, the places, and culture– he also highlights the societal issues, the flaws, and the weaknesses the city has: gentrification, poverty, and homelessness to name a few. He also encourages his students to give back to the community, which is why all of the students in the class had the opportunity to volunteer at Lotus House. I was excited because I had never been to a homeless shelter, and I am aware that the homeless have been through difficult times, so I just wanted to help with anything I could to serve them. These people didn’t receive much support in their past, but Lotus House opened their doors and changed that.
Ever since I was a little Vivian (age-wise), I always enjoyed helping. Knowing that my contribution made peoples’ tasks easier or that I made others’ day a bit better was satisfying—which is one of the reasons why I chose to major in psychology. Many people at Lotus House have faced adversity time after time. All of those bad experiences lead to trauma. I couldn’t help them heal their scars, Lotus House does a great job at that, but I did try to make them feel appreciated, and to get a smile out of them– this may not solve their problems, but radiating some positivity surely makes a difference. They all seemed so grateful, and I found it very gratifying
WHERE & WHAT
When we arrived at Lotus House, we were divided into different groups because there were various activities for us to help with. Some people helped to sanitize different rooms in the building, others helped in organizing a garage room, and I had the opportunity to work in the kitchen!
I was surprised by how hard the people in the kitchen worked. The chefs and cooks work from 5 am to 4 pm non-stop! I imagined that they only worked a little bit before breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I underestimated the time and dedication that goes into the preparation of approximately 200 meals! The chefs begin to prepare breakfast at 5 am, then they serve it. By the time breakfast is over, it’s time to start making lunch, and then they serve it, and so on. Lotus House offers free meals to the people they house, and the general homeless population. Lotus’ Kitchen also prepares meals to take to the homeless outside of the building.
At first, I was assigned simple tasks, such as preparing the to-go boxes– six chicken nuggets, three fish sticks, salad, one biscuit, a cup with salsa, and one strawberry tart per box. Then I was cutting vegetables! Lots of them. The time went by very quickly. The people working in the kitchen were extremely friendly. The atmosphere was such a positive one that I was enjoying my tasks, and don’t tell anyone but… I don’t like to cook! But somehow I enjoyed it that time. Perhaps knowing that my contribution was towards something significant and altruistic, made me want to give the best of me. I enjoy helping, and I had a lot of fun learning how to prepare different meals and interacting with the kind staff.
Soon it was lunchtime! My classmate Daniel and I became lunch ladies! We served fish burgers, corn soup, salad, and cookies for lunch. We also had vegan options. Serving lunch was a unique experience. I made small talk with people and made sure to give them what they wanted, and if we didn’t have it, I offered alternatives. Every single one of the people who we handed a plate to did not forget to say the magic word. And it never got old. Each time it felt more and more rewarding. They were all so grateful. When we finished serving lunch, I saw everyone sitting and chatting, laughing, and having a good time. They all seemed so jovial and relaxed while they were enjoying their meal. A lady was even carrying a speaker blasting Latin music! I wanted to join them. “I should enjoy the little things like they do,” I thought to myself.
According to the End Homelessness website, 3,516 people are homeless on a given night in Miami Dade County (“Florida”). The reasons that led to people’s homelessness vary– lost jobs, substance addiction, eviction, family abuse, etc. Many are homeless due to the gap between housing prices and income. Regardless of what the reason was, the homeless share similar, heartbreaking stories of what they went through. They’ve experienced a fear of the unknown, hunger, solitude, and many more unpleasant feelings. They have all been through difficult times, and the least we can do is offer our grain of salt to make their day a little better. They deserve support, they need healing, and after their scars begin to heal, they will eventually blossom to who they are meant to be in life (“Where Hope Blossoms”).
The residents at Lotus House are warriors. They have been treated unfairly by life and got back up, but that doesn’t stop them from appreciating life. They all seemed so grateful, even though they have plenty of things to complain about. Seeing them enjoy their meals and socialize as if they were in the middle of a festivity made me compare it to how I spend my lunchtime. I reminisced what my last lunch was like– I saw myself holding my phone with one hand and a fork in the other. I don’t even remember what the meal I had tasted like—shame on me. We are so used to being in a rush, under stress, and in our minds that we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the things that do matter. Having a plate on our tables, having a bed to sleep in, and a roof to live under is taken for granted—the only time when we will realize that those were actually big things is when we no longer have them. This opportunity made me realize that I should get my mind off the half-empty mentality and spend more time savoring the half-full glass– those “little things”…
People who have been through rough times seemed so happy, and sometimes we feel like life is being unfair to us just because things didn’t go as planned– we lose our minds over minor inconveniences. This experience made me realize that I haven’t been as grateful as I should and that many times we lose ourselves seeking happiness when, in reality, we can find it in the simplest things.
“Florida.” National Alliance to End Homelessness, endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/florida/.
“Where Hope Blossoms.” Lotus House Shelter, lotushouse.org/.