by Kimberly Alvarez
Since I was 15 years old, the jobs I usually obtained were in the agricultural field, whether it be at the Stew Leonard’s petting zoo, ShopRite’s floral department or at a dog boarding facility. Being so familiar with these types of jobs, I was always hesitant to work in any other field. While I know for a fact that an agricultural career is in my future, I decided towards the end of April 2020 to venture into social work.
I believe that stepping out of my comfort zone every once in a while can prepare me for that unpredictable future, so I took on a job working at my city’s emergency homeless shelter. As the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on everyone’s lives, many seemed to forget about the neglected edges in each community, like the homeless. Key public locations, such as libraries, public restrooms and food banks closed down. These prime locations were a necessity for many individuals. Luckily, the State of Connecticut opened an emergency shelter housing 50+ residents, and I was able to get a position there. Before working at the shelter, I was never aware of how many individuals were affected by homelessness. Stepping out of my comfort zone has benefited me with this knowledge and allowed me to offer support to my community.
Going into the shelter I had no idea what to expect regarding the precautionary measures for COVID-19. There are rules that must be followed by every resident: always wear your mask; apply hand sanitizer whenever you enter the building; keep a 6ft distance from anyone at the shelter. Monthly testing is required for all staff members/residents and both day/night temperature checks are mandatory. Adhering to these rules has been successful and makes the environment safer in my eyes. On a daily basis, breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided to the residents. There are also caseworkers who help them with rapid housing or with job searches. Shelters tend to be all about stabilizing those in need, as they overcome the obstacles in their way and find a stable path. This is when housing opportunities are brought up and jobs are encouraged. Unfortunately, homeless individuals can lack many things such as affordable housing options, a genuine support system and many tend to struggle with addiction. The goal is to provide guidance and not be seen as an authoritative figure.
Raising awareness for the homeless is so important for every community. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with such amazing people and listen to them when they need a shoulder to lean on. I recommend adding new dimensions to your life, whether it be once a week, once a month or once a year. Stepping out of your comfort zone may lead you to discover a whole new passion. Agriculture will always be my forte; however, being there for any individual in need is key to my lifestyle now. Eventually these small changes you make in your life accumulate and create a positive outcome as the time goes by.