Kindness, Confidence, Honesty and Yes, Humor
By Anya Nitczynski
For the GPHN
Over 100 hours. I recently tallied how many hours I’d spent at the Park Hill Safe Outdoor Space camp, and I’ve spent over 100 hours at the site as a volunteer.
I remember starting at the SOS a couple days after it opened in June at the parking lot of the Park Hill United Methodist Church/Temple Micah. I remember being nervous walking up to the chain-link fence surrounding it and ringing the doorbell. I didn’t know then that I’d walk home from that first shift and sign up for five more in the coming weeks. When I signed up for those shifts, I had no idea I’d spend my entire summer volunteering at the camp, usually every other day.
But most of all, I didn’t know the magic that that parking lot held. When the encampment moved away from Park Hill last month, I realized how much I had changed for the better since starting at the camp. I’d like to reflect on those changes and experiences.
In mid-December, the temporary site moved to Denver Human Services, in the Clayton neighborhood just west of Park Hill. While I am still spending time with my friends at the new site, I miss the Park Hill SOS.
One of the biggest changes I noticed in my life and general mindset while spending time at the encampment were around my internal biases about people experiencing homelessness. I’ve been confronted with my privilege and the mindset that comes with that in a way I never thought I could.
Most of all though, I made friends. There’s something beautiful about going to a new place and meeting new people who place zero judgment on you. None. I remember one specific instance of a resident giving me a letter to mail for them, and I hadn’t known them for that long. It was an important letter, too. This resident trusted me with something of incredible value and I remember mailing that letter and thinking about how that experience shifted my attitude towards trust, honesty and judgment.
The friends I’ve made through the SOS are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. These are the same people who have been continuously outcast by the world and experienced brutality and bitterness more than I can comprehend. Yet somehow, when they share their stories of violence from the police or hardships they’ve experienced because of other people, the sentiment of the story is never bitterness. It is always gratefulness. A gratefulness to be alive, to be breathing, and to people who have shown kindness to them.
Over the holidays, I was reminded how important it is to keep these values near my heart. Holidays are hard, especially for those that may not have a family that welcomes them in for celebrations.
I was taught by the residents to be grateful for every experience I am given, every goal I reach, every breath I take. I owe at least some of my kindness, my honesty, my confidence and my humor to the friends I made at that site.
I’d like to revise my first statement. I’ve spent more than 100 hours at the SOS encampment as a volunteer. But also as a student, and as a friend.
Anya Nitczynski is a freshman at Denver School of the Arts. Her column appears monthly in these pages.