At some point in my life I decided, rightly or wrongly, that there are many situations in this life that I can't do much about — acts of terrorism, feelings of nationalistic prejudice, Cold War, etc. — so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can affect. - Jim Henson
I’m an over-informed citizen, which just sounds nicer to my ears than “news junkie.” Although that works.
Civics, government, and politics have always been interesting to me, from boyhood on, and once I began a career in journalism it became imperative that I stay aware.
And, as it turned out, I married someone just like me. So we have some fairly detailed conversations about what’s going on in the world.
And these are usually not that much fun. Pick a problem, a country, a population, a disease, a disaster: What good news we hear only serves as a reminder that there’s work to be done. And I have no idea how to help.
Geopolitical hot spots? I have no power or influence. Climate change? I compost and recycle, but let’s not kid ourselves: This isn’t going to cut it, and the future can appear ominous.
I delve into the details and pull out, eventually, fighting hopelessness. So many problems, so few solutions, and aside from casting the occasional vote, signing the occasional petition, and trying to understand the world’s problems, there’s not much I can do.
And then I found REACH.
Not that I was a stranger; I dipped my toe in the water a little, helped a bit, but you sometimes have to know more than just understand the numbers and the need. Sometimes you need to see.
When I signed on as development coordinator, it seemed appropriate to immerse myself as much as possible in the day-to-day business of housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, and helping the least of us.
So I visited the REACH Center of Hope at City Hall, observing the remarkable operation headed by the Reverend Dr. Linda Smith. I sat at the morning Warm Up breakfast, watching men eat and drink coffee, preparing for another day on the streets, food in their stomachs and perhaps some hope in their hearts.
I attended a Friday night evening meal (REACH provides these over the weekends), ostensibly to observe and take a few pictures. And then it happened.
A long line of hungry people waiting to eat, and another line of volunteers, being present, smiling and conversing, and dishing out as much food as the plates would hold. It was a remarkable sight, and would have been so even if a serving spot hadn’t suddenly opened up.
At the end of the line, then, I scooped ice cream out for eager eaters, gallon after gallon. The dinner was nutritious food, certainly, but then ice cream isn’t really food: It’s cold happiness.
And it was mine. The smiles I occasionally saw couldn’t match the joy jumping in my soul at the simple, and mysterious, act of helping to feed a hungry person.
That’s when I understood what Jim Henson was talking about. We can wallow in our powerlessness over big events, or we can find something we can fix.
And this can be fixed.
It can’t be solved, or not right away, but it can be fixed. Housing can be found. Shelters can be established. Food can be acquired. Hope can be nurtured.
Fred Rogers famously said that when he was a boy, and saw disasters or tragedies played out in a world he was just becoming aware of, his mother gave him the best advice, I suspect. “Look for the helpers,” she said, reminding us that they are the solution.
This week of Thanksgiving is also REACH Awareness Week. Over the next seven days, we hope to let the people of Renton and South King County, among others, know something about what we do, what our mission is, what happens, what still needs to be done, and what can happen when we decide to make it happen.
And, if you’re like me and get a chance to see it for yourself, you’ll understand what Mrs. Rogers was really telling little Fred. Watch for the helpers; they give you hope in humanity.
But become a helper, and it will give you joy. You have my word on it.
I hope you join us, spread the word, learn what we do, and find it within your power to effect change on a level where it’s actually possible. Donate, certainly; we’re a small nonprofit that subsists on the generosity and kindness of our community, and our community partners.
And if you get the opportunity, maybe take an hour to stand in a serving line and feed some grateful hungry people. You won’t leave as the same person. You also have my word on that.
Sometimes there’s ice cream, too.