Maria Cruz: MIM Service Project (Spring 2020)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Service Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Spring of 2020. For her project, she spent a day volunteering at the Lotus House Women’s Shelter with her class.

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Photo by Katy Roth, edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Who & How

Quite frankly, the day my classmates and I spent volunteering at the Lotus House was one of my favorite offsite excursions. In recent years, most of the volunteering work I had completed was organizing events or activities of that manner for organizations, which was rewarding at the time because it allowed me to raise further awareness for their work and the impacts of supporting their efforts. However, because of the indirect nature of my positions, it has been a while since I contributed my personal time and efforts to face these issues head-on. This is why I was so interested in volunteering at the Lotus House since I first heard of the opportunity, and despite just how unprepared I initially felt when we showed up for our shifts I now feel more motivated than ever to help those whose struggles are being widely ignored in our community.

Where & Why

Despite the list of chores we had to complete and various hours of work, throughout our day at the Lotus House my classmates and I came to know many of its workers, the story of the women and children that seek their help, and the sanctuary’s mission. At the start of our volunteer shift, I was completely unaware of what the expectations set for us will be and how our involvement could benefit the center’s residents; however, our guides fro the day were very welcoming and forthcoming with information. They started off by telling us the Lotus House’s mission, how the facility recruits its workers to ensure the maintenance of operations, and just how grateful they, as a non-profit, are grateful for contributions of any kind. Immediately afterward, we began our work for the day. As the complex is large and is constantly offering services to its residents and outside members of the community, we were all split up into different groups and sent to complete separate tasks. There were those who went to sanitize, help out in the kitchens, and finally, the last group was asked to clear out the docking bay and help clean up for the arrival of new shipments. The final group of us were tasked with seemingly the most daunting responsibility — can you guess which one I was assigned to? Nonetheless, we started working immediately.

As we were clearing out the warehouse and separated the items into two separate categories for the items that were being donated and those that were being thrown out we learned more about the inner operations of Lotus House. First, the items that were being donated were actually being sent to their own thrift chic boutique whose proceedings go back to the center. Also, this shop runs one of its empowerment programs whose retail job training opportunities “assist[s] women, youth, and children experiencing homelessness improve the quality of their lives on every level and achieve greater self-sufficiency.” Once all the items were loaded into the truck and it was good to go we began a deep clean of the warehouse itself. While I was asked to help organize their “goodies” closet in the midst of this, I eventually rejoined my classmates and professors in this great task. Eventually, everything was squeaky clean and my group and I grabbed lunch with the classmates we were separated from. Wr ended the day by cleaning the communal areas on the floors of the apartment complex, with a new appreciation for the shelter and all the work it does for our community.

Summary

While this was a completely new experience for me, it is an opportunity I am truly grateful for having. Looking back on our time here, despite my own economic troubles and personal issues my time in this quarantine world has helped me realize that I am still a position of privilege. Our work at the Lotus House gave me a new perspective on what I, and our community, can do to support one another because no matter how small of a contribution you make, it can result in a grand difference in somebody else’s life. From clearing out the warehouse to sanitizing the common areas, we put maximum efforts in making sure everything was left squeaky clean. The shelter’s workers profusely thanked us for assisting them, expressing to us how despite their best efforts, the “village” (the rebranded name for this shelter) has become so large and there are so many daily operations they have to look over that sometimes menial tasks like these get pushed back.

We may have only spent half a day here, but I was really looking forward to going back and completing the remaining of my volunteer hours at the Lotus House — a sentiment I know I share with some of my classmates. After personally witnessing how they are making their mission a reality and the change this organization is making in Miami, I feel more empowered than ever to help combat the issues of homelessness and socioeconomic disparity in Miami. 

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