Heart of La Puente: The Value of a Thank you

Eva Decker
La Puente Volunteer

La Puente holds a weekly Writer’s Workshop for clients, volunteers, and the community to come and share their stories while gaining feedback and suggestions for their writing. The workshop is taking a short break for the holiday season and will convene after Jan. 1, every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in La Puente’s Outreach Conference Room at 929 State Ave. To hear more stories like this one come and check out La Puente’s monthly Freedom Writers’ Open Mic—the next open mic will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

The value of a thank you can be worth so much, especially from someone you don’t expect to hear it from. Working at the shelter can sometimes be a thankless job.  When we have guests who stay for several weeks, the comfort of the services we provide can become so expected and well, comfortable that sometimes guests forget the effort that goes into the work. Usually it is not a problem. With a job like the one I have at the shelter you learn to develop a tough skin of sorts. You serve people, people who are at the lowest point in their lives and more than anybody need support. Due to their circumstances many guests are too embarrassed, defensive, or cynical to express thanks easily. Usually it doesn’t matter if you receive thanks because the results of finding these people homes, financial support, medical assistance among other things is enough.  Overall, I understand and thrive off of this mentality of service. However there was one particular case that really got under my skin.
There was a couple that had been at the staying at La Puente for about a month. When they first came to the shelter, I had high hopes for them.  They were my first real assigned “case” and I was to help them get on their feet. They were excited to talk to me and they seemed like they had a well established plan. At my first meeting with them they had a full list of information to tell me and they seemed like they would be out of there quick…like a week quick. They seemed convinced that getting a house would be simple, or if not simple it would be a clear path to success and since I am new in this field of work, their conviction was reassuring. Their projected optimism made me optimistic. I did them small favors. I joked with them, high fives, had a general air of respect and trust in them. I felt good about my job and felt that this work was truly great work.
But my attitude toward them started to change. As the weeks went by I realized that this couple had been at the shelter for going on a month, and everytime I met with them their story seemed the same. They had the same projected hopes but no real action. Everytime they talked to me it seemed like they were trying to push me away, to get me off their back so they could continue relaxing. It was an extremely frustrating feeling. I felt I had been played, that they had just been mooching off of our services. They seemed to just lounge around, not doing shelter chores, expecting accommodations.  I viewed them as ungrateful, and I began to really resent them. Any time I heard their name, I would tense up with agitation. It was an extremely challenging feeling to resent the people that I was supposed to serve. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted them to succeed or fail and that conflict was truly heartbreaking.
These feelings were brewing inside when they finally found some transitional housing. On their last day as they were moving out, the man came up to the office window and started explaining his gratitude for us here at the shelter. As he continued he sincerely mentioned that he realized that we had had some “hard times”, that I had been frustrated with them, but he truly appreciated my work, patience, and support. And it all left in a second, all the resentment. And it wasn’t that I was just waiting to receive credit but it was because in that moment I saw them as people again. People that deserved to succeed and not to fail. It really is amazing what that thank you did.
I believe that all the programs at La Puente focus on a concept of treating everyone with dignity. With this man’s thank you, I rediscovered their dignity and could go back to work feeling a little more confident that people wouldn’t lack it in the future.

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