A Flying Leap

Today, I took a flying leap outside my comfort zone.  As I’ve written in a previous journal, I’m not a huge fan of putting myself out there.  I’m not introverted per se, I just like feeling in control and hate feeling out of place.  For my enterprise story I’ve decided to write about teen homelessness, which basically guaranteed that I would have to step out of my box and talk to people and go places that I normally wouldn’t.  Well, today I took the first step.

I had arranged to meet Mike Langley, director of the Hosea Youth Services Center, to learn more about the organization and see what when on there.  He ended up being sick and wasn’t going to be coming in today.  Even though I felt a little unsure of braving a new place myself, I decided to go anyway.  I stressed out about it for the majority of the day.  It wasn’t the fact that I was going to a center for homeless teens that worried me.  It was just that I was going to a new place where I would be the outsider.  I’m used to working with impoverished families and teens so that part of the equation doesn’t really bug me.  I just feel like when I go to places like that, that I’m the outsider imposing myself on people who look at me and wonder what the hell am I doing there.  I’m used to being able to relate to people but being homeless is something that I can’t relate to at all.  The fact that I can’t relate bothers me and ultimately makes me feel not credible in a weird way.

But, with all of those thoughts, I went.  I got to the Eugene Evangelical Church on 8th Avenue and Monroe, where the center is located, right at 3:00 p.m. when the doors were supposed to open.  I walked up to the door and a boy of about 17 or 18 was standing at the top of the steps.  He stared at me during my entire walk towards him.  He was wearing a black sweatshirt and grungy jeans.  He had a layer of dirt on one side of his face.  I smiled when I got close and awkwardly asked if this was where the center was located.  He gave me a short yes.  I tried to be journalistic but I was way too nervous.  I asked if they were supposed to open at 3:00 and he said yes, that they usually opened before 4:00 so that people could take showers.

I didn’t really know what else to say so I decided to walk around the block.  While taking my walk, I knew that I had missed a golden opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who uses the facility.  I gave myself a little pep talk and told myself that once I made it around the block that I’d make a genuine effort to be a “real” journalist.

When I arrived back at the center, the boy had been joined by four others.  Two girls, who both looked to be about 15 or 16, sat on one side of the steps.  A boy and a girl, who both seemed to have some kind of mental disability, stood at the top of the steps hugging and cuddling each other.  “Great… it just got more intimidating,” I thought to myself. But I charged forward and walked up the stairs.  I’m sure they were all wondering why some obviously-not-homeless-white-girl was trying to go to the shelter.  I said hi and told them that I was doing some research on teen homelessness for an article I was writing.  A girl with short pink hair and chains attached to her baggy clothes looked at me skeptically and asked, “how old are you?”  I laughed and said twenty.  She was very surprised, “Oh wow.  I thought you were like 16 at the oldest.”  This broke the ice and I started to get more comfortable.

Just then the rain that had been sprinkling stopped and a rainbow appeared.  The girl with the boyfriend got really excited and drew everyone’s attention to it.  The girl with the pink hair said how she wanted to follow the rainbow in hopes of finding “Zaz” at the end.  It turns out Zaz is a boy she likes.  “I think whatever you want the most is at the end of the rainbow,” she said.  “Like he would be at the end of your rainbow,” she said to the girl with the boyfriend.  I was struck by this quaint moment.  Here I was talking to people that I never would have talked to on a normal day, about a rainbow.

I decided to ask a few more questions and was surprised by how talkative they were.  It turns out the two girls weren’t homeless but just came to the shelter to hang out with their friends.  I asked how the food was and got a huge response.  “Their casseroles are amazing!” said the boy with the girlfriend.  “All the food is homemade by the people of the center,” said the pink-haired girl.  I was surprised by this.  I had assumed the food would be kind of thrown together but instead, it seems like the center takes time to feed visitors very well.  At this point, the center was still not open and would probably not open till 4:00 p.m. for mealtime.  I noticed a large group of kids, probably 8-12, walking towards the center.  I decided I wasn’t quite ready to talk to that many people at once. So I chose to leave with plans to go back Monday.

During the whole experience I just kept telling myself that people always say it’s good for you to step out of your comfort zone.  Turns out they were right.  While I know I will still be nervous when I go back on Monday, I definitely have more confidence than I did before.  I learned a lot today and overall it was a great experience.  I’m looking forward to being able to reflect on personal changes that have happened because of this assignment when the project is over.

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About Madeline Dickerson

I am a recent graduate of the University of Oregon with Bachelor of Arts degrees in magazine journalism and cinema studies. I am currently interning at the "Chinook Observer" in Long Beach, Washington. I plan on pursuing a career in photojournalism and reporting.
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