“We Really Ought to do Something About This.”
July 7, 2018
2011 was a tough year for me, both professionally and personally. I had purchased a gallery in downtown Traverse City two years prior and was struggling to save it while my marriage was deteriorating. As a result, I was pretty self-absorbed and unpleasant to be around.
One morning, as I was unlocking the front door of my gallery, I woke a couple of men who were sleeping on the patio benches behind the building. At first, I was annoyed and even felt a little violated. But they were nice enough, even apologetic, and quickly gathered their belongings to get out of my way. And so we went through this routine most mornings from late-September to early-November.
Day after day, while sliding my key into the lock, I would think, “We really ought to do something about this.”
Finally, as the snow began to fall, an internal switch was flipped. “We is me,” I said to myself. “Get off your butt and do something about it!”
Mind you, I had spent my professional career in marketing, sales, and arts management. I wasn't a social worker, nor did I have a background with people experiencing homelessness. But I did have a genuine concern for our neighbors, and a sincere desire to be part of a solution.
The next few months were spent researching the root causes of homelessness including adverse childhood effects and external factors like insufficient mental health and addiction treatment services. I was completely shocked to learn that, at any given time, there were nearly 100 people living on the streets of Traverse City. Our community was actually losing housing vouchers because people couldn't find affordable housing on which to use them.
Safe Harbor was in the news around this time, and I reached out, described my skills, and asked if there was a place for me. The churches had been struggling with growing numbers of people requiring emergency shelter, and they needed a group to study the problem and hopefully secure a larger, centrally located permanent facility from which to operate.
I found a way to contribute and am proud to say that we made it happen. Safe Harbor opened its new building just in time for the start of the season in late 2017. And looking back, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity as the past seven years have been some of the most challenging, productive and fulfilling of my life.
Homelessness is truly a community issue, and I believe it will take each of us to end it. Safe Harbor, along with Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan and many other organizations within the Northwest Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness, simply could not operate without the generosity of donors and volunteers. They are doing a lot with a little, and I'm encouraged to think what they could do with more.
When we come forward, not only do social issues get addressed, but our local economies expand, businesses grow, education spreads, and support systems become more efficient. More engaged communities make more engaging communities.
Being involved makes us feel less alone, keeps us healthier and happier, and contributes to a more vital and interesting life. We feel connected, useful, appreciated, and safe. It brings inspiration, helps us succeed in our relationships, and allows us find our way in life. Most importantly, it provides a sense of purpose.
When you step up, it allows you to sharpen your abilities while making a positive difference. You might even find that you develop more self-confidence, and that you are needed and valued in your community far more than you ever could have imagined.
Ask yourself: “What special skills or talents can I offer? What kind of person am I? Do I enjoy working on my own projects, or do I work better alongside others?”
And consider going outside of your comfort zone. As a non-religious person, I found working with Safe Harbor's 24 churches and 1,700 volunteers to be intimidating at first. But my life is much richer for the experience, and I'm so glad I did.
So volunteer. If you’re a people person, see whether you can do something that involves interaction like working at a community meal, making food deliveries, or working as a cashier at a charity thrift store. Introverts can help, too. You might contribute by providing accounting help or cleaning and maintaining shelter facilities.
Sit on a board. Write a check. Research. Advocate. Speak up and speak out. Think about writing an opinion piece or a letter to the editor. Make a public comment at a city commission meeting or at your local community center.
Your involvement might help solve a big problem, or it may just make someone's day a little brighter — both are critically important.
I'm happy to report that I did manage to turn my business and marriage around, and I give a lot of the credit to volunteerism and community involvement. It sounds cliché, but the more I give, the more I get. The more connected I feel to those outside, the more secure I feel within. I am a happier, healthier, more fulfilled person, and all of my relationships have benefited because of it.
So remember: We is me. Get off your butt. Your community needs you, and you need your community.
Christie Minervini is a Traverse City resident who owns Sanctuary Handcrafted Goods in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. She is passionate about gender equality, community development, and ending homelessness.