Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks and the "Power of a Pet"

Before anyone can begin to eat a morsel of thanksgiving dinner, my family goes around the table to say what they are thankful during the year. My family members give thanks for the support of each other and a clean bill of health over the last year. Family and health - two vital components that everyone would be thankful for. As the plates were getting smaller and smaller, the talk at the table changed to my time spent in San Francisco. I had already shown photos of Open Hand and explained what I was doing but in light of Thanksgiving my mind floated to what the people I met would be thankful for. 

The more I thought about it, I began to think of the interviews and conversations I had throughout my time at Open Hand. There seemed to be a reoccurring theme that flowed through much of those discussions. Volunteers, staff, and clients alike were all thankful for Open Hand and the reasons varied. Volunteers were thankful to an organization that made them feel as though they are making a difference. It is not difficult to understand, every facet that volunteers take part in is tangible - you are cutting mushrooms for a sauce that will feed people, you are peeling cabbage that will be placed in the free grocery store, or you are assembling hot meals that will be delivered to the front door of someone who needs it. 

The staff repeatedly mentioned how this is the best job they have had because they believe in the mission and the objectives. From the clients services to the kitchen staff or janitors, I either ate lunch and picked their brain or worked along side them and did the same. They understand the need and the services provided. One person pointed to the noted difference she sees in the clients that inspires her every day. It is easy to see that these people are thankful for finding a place that they believe in and doing a job that gives back to the community in visible ways.

The clients carry perhaps the most unique and varied perspective. The simplest of answers illustrates the profound effects that come with receiving a hot meal, quality food, or being treated with dignity and respect. Some responses that resonate now in my head highlight the conversation and handshake that takes place at the grocery store counter. "How are you doing today?", "How was your weekend?", "Are you sure you don't want eggs?!" it all fits under the notion of solidarity. Everyone walks together, no one is ever alone. Another area of thanks was the high quality and level of treatment that occurs in the Bay Area. People mentioned how they would be terrified to go visit or live in Texas or Oklahoma because they've heard about the levels of stigma that hinder a person's life experience. One called San Francisco the Globe's Mecca of HIV care and for this reason they will never leave the city. 

"Power of a Pet"

The last topic of thanks I put aside in it's own paragraph because it struck me by surprise and afterwards made a great deal of sense. In a conversation that occurred while bagging frozen chicken legs, I learned about the power of a pet. It was something that came up in a couple of later discussions and each time the transformation was the same. The constant is a person who is in the depths of a dark depression contemplating existence and not feeling motivated to maintain the healthy lifestyle or keep up with the daily regiments that can save and prolong their life. The variable is a kitten, a dog, or an animal that bonds to the person. The results are a transformed person who is highly motivated to stay healthy in order to care for the animal. The reciprocal value is the love and affection the animal shows no matter how tired, upset, or depressed the person is.  I call this the power of the pet because the lasting impression the animal has on the person is nothing short of amazing. 

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