Friday, March 28, 2014

Last Day of Service: Project Open Hand (Steven Beardsley)

Today was our last day of service, and we ended it with a bang. This morning we went to Project Open Hand, which is a nonprofit organization that provides nutritious meals to people experiencing illnesses such as HIV/Aids. They have up to 100 staff members in addition to thousands of volunteers that help out on a daily basis. We were introduced to the organization by Sarah who talked about what Project Open Hand does while establishing a safe and supportive environment for volunteers. We also met the Programs Coordinator, Andy, who assigned tasks and supervised our work in the grocery store. Andy was also very supportive and very encouraging. He spent a lot of time learning our names in addition to smiling at each of us and treating each of us as individuals.

We worked at Project Open Hand from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, and we did a lot of work from doing crafts to stocking and reorganizing food. I worked primarily in the grocery store with Mackenzie restocking the milk and organizing the vegetables in the fridge. I also spent a lot of time working with Anne, Jen, Olivia, Taty, and Mandy reorganizing all of the crates of beans and wheat. It was a fun process, and we worked well together as a cohesive and efficient team. I really appreciated everyone's help, and I enjoyed working with people like Andy and Sarah who were very supportive and who understood that we were capable of making our own decisions when it came to getting tasks done. After volunteering at Project Open Hand, I realized that the organization provides very specific services to those who are sick and unable to go grocery shopping.

Though they fill a specific niche in the community, I think that they were also aware of other communities and creating a space where everyone can come and volunteer regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and other identities. For instance, we had an incident where some of us were engaging in a conversation with a white man on issues surrounding racial profiling and incarceration. Our group members, Olivia and Taylor, tried to counter the man's argument that policemen are trained "to be bias" and that it's their job to arrest people who present or look "suspicious." Instead of listening and cultivating an open discourse, he frequently interrupted them and deflected their arguments as too "emotional." Though this was a difficult situation, I was thankful that Sarah took the time to debrief about what happened. She let everyone involved tell their side of the story while treating us and the issue very seriously.

I think that our work at Project Open Hand highlights the importance of creating an atmosphere that is conducive to an organization's mission. I understand that Project Open Hand engages a variety of people, and I am thankful that they are open to this engagement but also intolerant of people who create negative/harmful atmospheres. Many of the organizations that we've visited also maintain this attitude. In addition to treating people with respect, many of the organization leaders have taken the time to know us as individuals; they've been very supportive and they've provided us with the tools we need to best help the communities they serve. I'm very thankful to have the opportunity to work with established organizations in San Francisco. I'm hoping to work with organizations in the future that maintain these attitudes and do their work because their is a genuine need for it. I'm sad to be leaving San Francisco, but I'm also glad that I can bring back all that I've learned from the group, organization leaders, and from members of the larger community of San Francisco.

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