I have been a social worker for almost nine years now. I have worked many jobs and have experienced some amazing things during my short career. It has been an honor to look back on my life. I see the kindness and compassion others so graciously poured into me. However, none of these accomplishments compare to the time I volunteer at The New Mexico Dream Center’s youth drop-in center, The Harbour.
The Harbour is home to a phenomenal group of men and women who work with homeless and at-risk youth. Their program specializes in assisting victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. It is the only organization in our state working to assist DMST victims. Not to mention, the organization is run by volunteers.
Yes, it is a team of volunteers who donate time and resources to come together for their community.
The Harbour has taught me things that are both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. I see lives changed in little exchanges between our clients and volunteers. Volunteers show acceptance no matter how, or under what circumstances, youth come to us. I see hope and love united in a common mission to help others feel seen and heard.
We also see the hard stuff. There are children who have been on the streets since they were my daughter’s age, and she is eleven. Volunteers hear about broken dreams and crushed spirits. The youth we serve experience things that are not only inhumane but just plain evil. Sometimes, the things we hear and see leave scars so deep that no amount of healing will ever allow them to fully fade from memory.
Volunteering at the Harbour has forever changed my life and the lives of those around me.
My daughter often comes with me to volunteer at The Harbour. She helps out due to both necessity and because she has the sweetest heart you will ever know. Elizah’s favorite person at The Harbour is a young man who we will call B. He is tall with curly black hair and a laugh that lights up the room. Elizah and B have great conversations. He is so kind to her. B will play board games or draw with her even though she’s a little younger. He lets her be the star of the show. She looks forward to seeing him when we can and at night when we say our prayers, B is often mentioned like he is part of our family.
My daughter attends a school downtown. Often, sometimes much too often, we stop at the local Starbucks for a treat after school. On this particular day, we were standing in line just waiting. As Elizah was looking around, a familiar face caught her eye.
She turned to walk toward a table and I watched her. “B!” she said loudly, and he smiled at her and said, “Hey, Elizah.”
“B, where’s your coffee?” Elizah asked.
B replied, “Oh, I just came here to hang out, Elizah.”
Elizah reached for his hand. She said, “C’mon B, my mom gets me a treat after school, so we are going to get one for you too.”
“It’s okay, Elizah,” B said. He was looking back at his friend who was sitting at the table.
Elizah said calmly to B, “Don’t worry, B, your friend can come too. Everyone is invited.” Elizah, B, and his friend walked toward me.
Now, as you might imagine, I could barely contain my pride, my emotions, and something else I’m not sure I can explain. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the people around me. It was more important to take in my proud mommy moment.
I looked around because it was our turn to order. I was saddened to see the people around us staring at my daughter holding B’s hand like it was a crime. Some of them even went as far as making comments under their breath. I know my daughter didn’t hear those because to her B is just her friend that hangs out at The Harbour sometimes. So as we ordered and waited for our drinks, she and B talked like old friends because they are. People stared because they are a bit of an awkward pair, but I stared for a different reason.
There are so many times in life when we struggle with being seen and heard.
Sometimes I think it’s pretty easy to wonder if anyone sees us at all. For kids like B, being unseen and unheard is even more profound. In fact it’s devastating. B is one of the thousands of homeless youth in Albuquerque. There are only 75 beds for those youth. So B, like many other kids, has had to do things like trade sex for food and shelter. B and people like him struggle with being seen and heard, which leads them on roads no person should ever have to travel.
Because of places like The Harbour, kids like B get to be seen and heard. It is also because of those same places that kids like Elizah get to understand the importance of choosing to see and hear others. It is a moment in time where kids like B aren’t alone in their struggle. The volunteers that choose to love our youth are fighting their battles with them.
This holiday season I am asking you to volunteer at one of the many organizations helping youth in Albuquerque.
There are amazing people like Shelley Repp at The Harbour. She works tirelessly to make sure homeless youth have a Christmas each year. Nathan Waites of WIN (What’s Important Now) sponsors a Christmas drive each year. His mission is making sure no family has to go without. There are people like Laura Burnett of Help Equals Hope who collect Thanksgiving dinners and feed 250 families each year. They are everything the holiday season should be. They are these beautiful people helping other people.
If you have a chance to swing by their websites or Facebook pages, leave a little love, or come volunteer and spend some time. I promise your life will be changed too.
Originally published December 2020.