November is National Gratitude Month. Between celebrating Thanksgiving, getting through midterms, and having fall break to spend quality time with friends and family, there is plenty to be grateful for. Studying in cozy Chestnut Hill, MA means that I, and my fellow peers, are not often exposed to life outside of the BC Bubble. However, since my freshman fall semester, I have had the opportunity to volunteer four hours of my week in downtown Boston at the St. Francis House, through the campus service organization 4Boston. When I first volunteered, I was unsure of what to expect, but each week I gain more than I give, and I am humbled and thankful to have the capacity to serve.

The St. Francis House

The St. Francis House was established in 1984 as a shelter for the homeless and poor in Boston. At the time, it was established to simply serve food and fulfill basic needs. In the 34 years since its beginning, the St. Francis House has expanded their programs to become the largest day shelter in Massachusetts serving an average of 500 homeless adults each day, 365 days a year. In addition to providing refuge and nutritious for the many guests, the shelter also focusses on providing health services, employment resources, and affordable housing. 

My Experience

When I volunteer at the St. Francis House, I serve breakfast and prepare lunch from 7am-11am. It is an early wake up call, but one of the best ways to start the day. Everyone I encounter, from the employees, other volunteers, to the guests have something positive to say and a warm smile. Some weeks I arrive feeling sluggish and tired, certain my morning would be better spent in bed, but after just a few minutes in the kitchen, catching up with the Wednesday morning crew, I am thrilled to be back.

Having the opportunity to speak to individuals whose lives are very different than mine helps me to gain perspective on my own struggles and privileges. If I am worried about not doing well on an exam, or feeling overwhelmed with school work, I am reminded to be thankful that I am getting an education, and will be stronger because of it. Despite many of the difficulties facing the guests at St. Francis House, they are some of the most grateful and honorable people I interact with each week. They encourage me, ask me about my classes, and even tell me jokes or sing me songs across the serving line. Their positivity is contagious and I am so thankful to have the capacity and opportunity to give my time and energy to them each week.

If you're interested in spending some time over the next few weeks giving back, check out United Way Worldwide's list of local volunteer opportunities. It is a great to remind yourself to be thankful this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!