Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Love Letter to Inspiration Corporation

In 1989, Lisa Nigro founded Inspiration Cafe serving coffee and sandwiches from a red wagon in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood.  In the years since it's founding, Inspiration Corporation has grown to serve 3,000 individuals a year by providing meals, supportive services, housing, employment preparation and vocational training, and free voice mail.  I started volunteering at Inspiration Corporation in early 2008 and it has been one of the constants in my life ever since.  I volunteer each Wednesday morning and often summarize my involvement by saying "it's the best volunteer job I've ever had."  

I like that when I return each Wednesday to serve breakfast in the cafe the same familiar faces greet me, George, Gloria and Kelvin who manage the cafe, Dietrich, Mike, and Carl who cook the meals, Haywood who does the dishes, and Jim, Mel, and Ellen who are also regular Wednesday volunteer meal servers.  And, of course, the guests of the cafe: Roy who always gives me a big hug when I arrive, Sheila who likes her coffee filled to the very rim of the cup, Kimmie who is taking classes at Truman, Paul who has a warm smile, and many many others.

It's not only familiarity that keeps me coming back to Inspiration though.  I've volunteered with a number of organizations that provide services to the homeless, even working for a year as a case manager in the largest homeless shelter in Phoenix.  Those experiences remind me of what makes Inspiration Corporation special.  The cafe where meals are served is warm, painted with beautiful brightly colored murals, the tables are small and often adorned with flowers, and morning sun pours through the West facing windows.  The guests are familiar, all participants in the programs offered at Inspiration, so I know many of their names and some of their stories. Perhaps most especially the meals are served restaurant style rather than cafeteria style.  The guests sit at tables and volunteers bring drink orders to them, take their meal orders, and deliver meals made to order.  After the meal, volunteers clear plates and often sit down to have breakfast themselves.  

The mission statement of Inspiration Corporation is "In an atmosphere of dignity and respect, Inspiration Corporation helps people who are affected by homelessness and poverty to improve their lives and increase self-sufficiency through the provision of social services, employment training and placement, and housing."  It is that critical recognition of dignity and respect as imperative to the work they do as an organization, which I believe makes Inspiration Corporation unique.

I believe that recognizing the dignity of and treating with respect those with whom I interact is at the very core of what I aim to do with my life.  In addition to informing major life choices, belief in dignity and respect requires intentional choices in everyday interactions.  It is a simple and obvious goal, but one which quickly falls by the wayside when I feeling affronted by the person with whom I'm interacting, when I feel fatigued by having yet another person ask me for money on the street, or I'm simply feeling stressed or rushed.  Perhaps, that's what I love most about volunteering at Inspiration, it is a time each week that reminds me to treat others with dignity and respect.  It's a reminder that sometimes serving coffee with a smile is glimpsing the absolute best version of myself.       

I hope to continue to support Inspiration Corporation with time and money for many years to come.  For that reason, I am donating $10 from every Western Avenue postcard set and 20% of proceeds from painting sales to Inspiration Corporation.  And, I will continue to make small donations of proceeds from my other Etsy shops to Inspiration.  I hope you will consider volunteering or making a financial contribution to Inspiration Corporation or finding an opportunity to support an organization that inspires you.
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1 comment:

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