Every Monday at the Dream Center, the team gathers to reflect on the past week, prepare for the upcoming week, and give any encouragement or information necessary to fulfill their positions well. During these meetings, we discuss any “eye-spy” moments from the previous week. There are several kinds of eye-spy moments: big victories that have occured for someone who the Dream Center is serving, sweet encounters with children in our after-school program, change taking place in someone’s heart because of the Dream Center, or recognition for a staff member’s hard work. As our director says, “When vision leaks, stories fill.” We share eye-spies to fill one another back up, especially after a tough week.
For me though, eye-spy time always brings me sweaty palms and a shaky voice, and here’s why: I realized that my involvement at the Dream Center was not impacting other people's lives the way it had the potential to. Each week I would come in and do what what I was required to do, but that’s as far as my involvement went. I wasn’t intentionally trying to get to know our guests or their stories. I wasn’t spending time with other interns and volunteers to hear their stories. I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to have an eye-spy moment of my own. I was being productive and helping a lot, but I wasn’t meaningfully and intentionally involved. Ever been there? My vision was slowly leaking, and I had no stories of my own to fill it. I had no stories to fill others.
Being unintentionally involved looked a couple different ways for me. For example, I am the Social Media and Public Relations Intern here; a lot of my time is spent posting about our programs, our guests, our volunteers, and our services. I would post different information and different stories, but I never had my own experience to relate to this information. If I were to post about a child in our after-school program, though I had likely met the child, the story was probably something somebody told me instead of something I experienced. When I would serve at our Community Dinners, I would often be an extra hand in serving guests their food, but would not know the people whom I was serving. This was frustrating because I desired to know how their lives were changing for the better. I desired to be impacted and impact others in return. I desired to form relationships and serve in a more meaningful way. I was serving with vision, but without meaningful impact.
This type of service is all too common. It has its place in the nonprofit sector, and it is important. Any type of service, intentional and meaningful or not, is helpful, kind, and oh so important. So, why did it bother me so much? At a place like the Dream Center, where one has the opportunity to be a part of the difference an organization is making, unintentional involvement almost seemed like a waste of time in the shoes I walked in. Yes, things were getting done that needed to be done, progress was being made, and hard work was being put in, but the Dream Center’s vision is centered around loving people, not tasks. I knew the time that I spent here needed to be reassessed, not just for me and my experience, but those I knew I could love well if I put the effort in.
Getting started is supposed to be the hardest part, isn’t it? Yet changing the way I spent my time here and making time to be more intentional was so, blindingly simple. I began sitting in on the middle school class in our after-school program. I had heard so many stories about this class which made me finally decide I wanted to know these stories first-hand. I wanted to live these stories alongside these incredible kids. After sitting in on a class where Army Officers spoke about effective and appropriate communication with other people, I already had a handful of eye-spy moments for myself. I noticed the patience and persistence that Lauren, the middle school leader, and her volunteer, Trevor, had with the students in this class. Out of love, they choose role models that they know can bring change into these students’ lives. Even when things get off topic, they direct the students back to learning and help them apply the information to their lives. I also started serving at community dinners differently. Instead of sticking to a certain task, I decided to be more submissive to serve wherever I was needed and bring intentionality to my service. I began to talk to guests about their lives, ask about good things that were happening in them, and listen with an open heart to the tough things they might be going through. My first experience with this motivated me to continue doing this; I talked to a man named Mike who expressed his gratitude for the Dream Center, explained how it has provided for him both necessities and relationships, and shared with me an area he needed prayer in. I also began getting to know our consistent volunteers and letting them show me how to love and serve people well at the Dream Center. For example, “Awesome Andy” serves every week at Community Dinner and in the clothing closet. He serves people with his entire heart and is always joyful in his service. This trait of his is something I hope can rub off on me by getting to know him better as he continues to serve here! When it came right down to it, the only real change I made in finding my own eye-spy moments was showing up and being kind. I began treating each person I met like a friend. I began supporting my fellow interns in their areas, simply by being there and being kind.
On the heels of my own progress and the newfound meaning I’ve found in serving, I challenge you. Next time you serve, be intentional with the guests, volunteers, and staff around you. Ask about their stories and how they got to where they are. Ask how they have been impacted by the Dream Center. If you have given to the Dream Center, come in on a Wednesday night to see what you are giving to. Be willing to let go of your normal routine to optimize your experience here. I promise you won’t regret it. I promise you will leave impacted. I promise that being intentional at the Dream Center will leave you with eye-spy moments of your own.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, …” Philippians 2:1-11
Written by: Savannah "Bani" Nelson