Part of a series featuring various members of Faith Community reflecting on the ups and downs of their service year with Covenant House.
Caroline, who studied kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island, is spending her year at Covenant House Atlanta, where she’s learned to adjust to the city’s intense heat and traffic and has fallen in love with its food.
From the start, Caroline found Covenant House’s mission compelling because of its focus on youth. “It wasn’t like any other homeless shelter,” she explains. “It’s such a hard time in life for anybody. At that age you don’t know who you want to be or do, and then to be homeless on top of that - that’s what drew me to it.”
Over the course of her year she has faced very challenging moments. One that she will never forget: a young woman who was far into a pregnancy called up the shelter in hysterics because she and her mother were being evicted. “I drove over to pick her up and it was a crazy scene. The police were there and all of their stuff was out on the lawn and the neighbors were standing in their driveways watching.” As she drove the young woman to the hospital, the youth told her that she was pregnant from a sexual assault and how she had hoped to never be homeless again. “We drove under a bridge at one point and she said, ‘I used to sleep under there, I never thought I’d have to go back.’”
These are the moments that have stuck with Caroline. She’s been frustrated to see youth making similar mistakes to those her siblings or cousins have made, but being punished far more severely because of their race or socioeconomic status.
These challenges have deepened her relationship with God. “I’ve wrestled with God more than I ever have before. Because it’s hard to see a kid being kicked out of the shelter or calling on the phone crying, it’s hard to just accept that and say ‘God, it’s all in your hands.’ And when I didn't just accept things, when I did question, that’s when He’s lead me to answers and to comfort.”
She’s also found the relationships she’s built with the people around her to be incredibly rewarding. Living in Community has been challenging, but the Community members’ relationships go above and beyond that of ordinary roommates, she explains, because they spend so much time together and understand what each other is going through in their work. She feels inspired by her co-workers at the shelter who care deeply for every youth, and she loves watching kids come into Covenant House very reserved and then slowly open up. “It’s just the little things, even when they reluctantly agree to come play basketball and then have so much fun. Each day you see them getting closer to us and to the other youth.”
She feels determined to try to help these youth, because they’re still at a crucial, formative time in their lives.
And that pregnant young woman who Caroline drove to the hospital after her eviction? A month later, she was back at Covenant House, where she managed to achieve some stability and arrange for a place to live with her newborn child. “That was a really hard experience,” Caroline says, “but I got to see the full picture, I got to see that it turned out okay.”
This year has changed her perceptions of homelessness, she reflects. “You realize that it’s often not their fault,” she says, “whether it’s mental illness, or abusive families, or just aging out of the foster care system and having nowhere to go. People say that homeless people should get a job - but who do you expect to hire them when they haven’t had a shower? How do you expect them to go to a job interview when they’ve spent the night on the street and barely slept?”
Caroline has found this work so transformative that she’s considering continuing for another year in Faith Community, at the new Covenant House opening in Chicago. “I’ve learned that this is my niche, this is what I’m good at.”
And for other people discerning a year of service? “As cliche as it sounds, God will provide. You don’t make a lot of money, but you learn to live simply, it’s not as hard as it sounds.”
She notes that going into this year, she wondered what she had to offer homeless youth. “As some white girl who grew up in a supportive family, I wondered how I would relate to these kids. But all people want is for you to be yourself. And when you’re yourself, that’s when you’ll form relationships with the kids. And you realize you have more in common than you thought.”