Last week’s advocacy class was vastly different from the usual. It was a beautiful day in Harrisonburg -our campus was buzzing, birds chirping, and there was a humming in the air. After about 15 minutes in class, our super cool professor Aaron Noland begins handing sticky notes along with money. Five dollars to each of us – excuse me? Out of his own pocket, we each received money along with the task of going out and doing something kind for someone we don’t know. Strange, right?
There were no guidelines other than having a conversation and doing good. My group made our way to a tree on the quad and prayed over our time together and what we would do. We ended up going to get my car and driving to Harrisonburg’s Our Community Place (OCP) – a non-profit organization that meets the needs of community members who are homeless. We pulled up only to run into another group from our class who were thinking along the same lines as us. We talked to Pedro who worked there and he called his boss, Ron Copeland, to come down from the office to meet and speak with us.
We ended up having a conversation that was nearly 30 minutes long. We were intrigued – what was OCP, how did it start, and what kinds of services were offered? He answered all of our questions. Ron used to own The Little Grille Collective and offered one free meal a week to those who needed it. He then realized how big of a problem homelessness was in Harrisonburg and created OCP. It hasn’t been an easy journey, to say the least, and his efforts were wrought with struggles and obstacles over the course of nearly 8 years. However, 2008 marked the year all the efforts paid off and OCP opened, welcoming anyone who walked through their doors. OCP now offers a community, worship, meals, programs and a variety of other resources.
What was even more incredible is Ron’s willingness to dive beneath the community’s physical and immediate needs and into one of the realest issues at hand – mental health. We discovered from our conversation with him that mental health and resources associated with it are truly what this community needs, because the men and women who walk through OCP’s doors have experienced trauma unheard of. Through our conversation with him, we were able to partner in our purchases to help meet some of their basic needs – coffee and donations. Our group of 7 made our way to Food Lion and bought 3 containers of ground coffee and used the rest of our money to donate to the organization. My group stuck around for awhile and we gave Pedro hand-written notes to give to the people entering the establishment later that day.
Overall, it was a time of learning to be genuine in daily exchanges and its application to relationships built over time. So… you might be thinking that in order to make an impact on the world, you must meet some insane standard way outside your realm of capability. And I’m here to correct this mindset by telling you that it is possible to shrink how we perceive making an impact on the world. When you think of world leaders, maybe you think of Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela….but in reality, everyone has the capability to be a world leader. Think of your immediate community – is it school? Work? Church? A neighborhood organization? When you plug yourself in and invest in something special to you, you’re making a difference. Whether or not you realize it, you’re leaving an impression on someone who is a changed person because of you.
So I encourage you – in the exciting, in the mundane…the adventurous, and the dull, invest yourself. Consider it a treasure to immerse yourself in these things because they are what continues to refine you as a human being. And in this refining process, a beautiful thing happens where you find yourself leading, teaching, and doing things you assumed you were never capable of. Turn your eyes from the intimidating and the formidable task of taking on the world, and rather turn them on its people. This world would not be itself without the individuals intricately comprising it. By setting your sights on not what, but who, is in front of you, you will impact the world more than you know.