Michaela O'Driscoll

About Michaela O'Driscoll

Hi, my name is Michaela O'Driscoll. I am in the middle of my first year at Rollins College. I have lived in Orlando my whole life with my parents and two sisters. I graduated from the Geneva School in 2012 where I spent 5 years. My interests include sports, music, writing, and serving anyway I can. I hope this blog is informative and serves as an eye-opener for all who stumble upon it.

Accountability

Tonight was our last meeting as a group. We ate dinner and discussed with Jenny our time at the Coalition. Afterward, we all shared our Act of Commitment with the others. Earlier, I painted a picture symbolizing what was needed to escape homelessness based on Alan’s acronym H.I.T.: Housing, Income, Transportation. The painting explores the interconnectedness of these resources, and how to have one you must have another, which makes attaining all of them together even more difficult. I have already hung it up on my wall so it can be a daily reminder of my Act of Commitment, which is to talk to at least one person a week about the issue of homelessness while trying to dispel the stigma that surrounds it.

Tonight was very important for the effectiveness of our Acts of Commitment because it provides the “accountability” piece. This word instantly reminds me of my faith because it is tossed around a lot in church communities. When a person makes a commitment to do something, a huge part of whether the commitment will be carried out in the long run is by having people around who know the commitment and can encourage the person to act toward the goal on a daily basis. Having all these friends around who can make sure I follow through is reassuring and gives me confidence as I try to be faithful to my commitment.

This week has been incredible. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to be on this trip and learn so much more about this social injustice of homelessness. Thank you to all those who have worked to make this happen. I hope and pray that all of us will remember what we have learned and continue to work towards being active citizens of the world.

A Heavy Heart

Today we drove back to Rollins, but there was still application to be done in our own community. So, after lunch we all drove to the Coalition for the Homeless downtown to take a tour and make jewelry with some of the people staying there. After we toured the facility, we set up all the supplies, and the women and children filed in. I worked with a number of people today. A man came in the room to scope out what was going on, and he liked what he saw. He approached me, and introduced himself as “G.” He went on to ask for a chain to put a key on. I, of course, obliged, cutting the chain and attaching the clips. When I asked for his key, he placed in my hands a small, antique piece of metal that he had been wearing around his neck using another worn out necklace. I was surprised at its size and look. He told me that his father had given him this key when he was a boy, and that he had worn it around his neck ever since. At that moment, I really saw him for the first time: a man yearning for respect and warmth, yearning for the closeness of a father. I yearn for the same things; the difference is that I am blessed enough to receive these things without even asking. I am thankful to this man for reminding me how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who love and respect me.

G left, but soon after a little boy named Marquan came strolling over to me. He held in his hands two yellow rubber duckies. I introduced myself to him, and his dimples showed as I pronounced his name wrong three times before I finally got it right. Marquan is four years old. He is not in public school, but attends the preschool provided by the Coalition. He laughed a lot as I talked to him about his likes and dislikes, and I asked him if he wanted to make a necklace. He immediately said yes and picked out a chain and some beads to put on it. As I put together his necklace, he watched my hands intently and listened to every word I spoke to him as if I were the most important person in the world. I finished his necklace, and we sat on the floor playing with the bath toys he had brought with him (probably the only ones he owns). Looking into his big brown eyes, I was struck by the fact that this beautiful young boy had no refridgerator to post his pictures on, no room of his own, and no place to call home.

I have worked with kids like Marquan for over 10 years, but I have found that, as I was bombarded with this sort of injustice week after week, I had developed a emotional defense toward it. My soul refused to see it after a while, and I forgot. I forgot how I felt the first time I witnessed a neglected and homeless child. Marquan and his siblings reminded me of the hurt that I have buried deep down for so long. Needless to say, I was in pain as I felt those feelings fresh once more like a reopened wound. My heart is heavy tonight as I type these words, heavy for Marquan and every child in a similar situation. Homelessness is horrendous and must be eradicated. It makes me angry and willing to do whatever it takes to fix the system. I can at least have intelligent and sophisticated discussions about the issue as it affects adults all across the United States. On the other hand, I almost cannot talk about the reality of homeless children living less than 2 miles from where I lay in my bed, in a warm house, surrounded by parents who have the time and energy to provide me with my every physical and emotional need.

When we were about to leave, Marquan’s brother, Marqui, came to pick him up. Unlike the hope that shown in Marquan’s eyes, his brother’s eyes were sad. Marqui introduced himself and told md he was attending Howard Middle School. He smiled softly when I joked with him, but the sadness remained in his eyes. I realized that as this boy is making his way through Middle School, he also has been forced to find a way to deal with the reality that he has no home. He has been through more hardship than I have been through in my entire life, but he continues to stay strong and resolute for his younger brothers. There’s not much more to say about this, except that Marquan and his brothers deserve better and that they are a living breathing portrayal of the effects of homelessness on children and what we must commit to ending once and for all.

 

The Invisible Ones

Today, the group did more work on Nina’s house. We were able to finish putting up the frames for the roof of the house. I learned a lot about the strengths of my peers, and how important communication and soft leadership are when trying to work as a team to achieve a goal such as this one. We were able to have dinner with Nina this evening and learn more about her story and her family who will be benefitting from the work we’ve done. She was so thankful for what we had done for her and kept emphasizing how important our work on her house would be for her children and their future.

This past week the image of “invisibility” continues to recur as we explore this issue of poverty and homelessness. In the interviews that make up Shipler’s book The Working Poor this word comes up as well. This term speaks to the way that homeless people are not afforded certain dignities: a greeting or an acknowledgment that they exist and have value as people. Throughout my whole life, I have always been visible, and my existence and worth have always been acknowledged. I cannot imagine going unseen day after day.

This invisibility is in part a result of the stigma that comes with homelessness and common misconceptions about what causes it. I used to believe that most of those who make up the homeless population are lazy, ignorant, haven’t finished high school, or are dangerous. Of course, you can find people living on the streets who fall into to any one of these categories, but many have been to college or owned a house and fell into poverty because of tough economic times, disasters, or deaths. A sudden change in circumstances can leave anyone on the streets without a place to stay. Sometimes this stigma arises out of a desire to not think about the problems with the current system or the utter poverty that exists in the United States. As a result, the homeless people that are a part of our lives remain unseen and ignored. The right to even be visible is not afforded to them, and this alone can completely destroy a person’s resilience and hope.

A Perspective Shift

It would be impossible to put into words every feeling I have had today, and I feel like if I did that would make them less impactful and absolutely perspective-changing. On another note, I’ve started to connect with the others on this trip, which makes serving alongside them that much more meaningful. I have never worked with Habitat for Humanity before, but they do incredible work; I witnessed that first hand today. The site supervisors and contractors were patient and took the time and effort to make sure every person was participating while still making sure we made a lot of progress on the house. My favorite part of the morning was meeting Nina Nelson, the single mother who with her children will move into the house when it is finished. Service most affects me emotionally when it is focused on people and relationships. Needless to say, seeing Nina’s excitement put the day’s work in perspective.

This evening we visited St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church to meet a panel of people who had lived on the streets or been homeless. All the speakers changed my preconceived ideas about homelessness. I specifically talked to a woman named Shea who was a drug addict and living on the street, but had the will to get clean and turn her life around. Her story was powerful and inspiring. I finally have faces to put to this concept of homelessness that has lived only in my head for a very long time. During the reflection time, Kate Wooley said that homelessness for her has turned from just a problem to the lives of specific people. This exactly encapsulates my experience so far, although I know I still have a long way to go in understanding this issue and how best to combat it.

Getting Acclamated

Today is the first day of the Habitat for Humanity Immersion trip. I have been anticipating this trip for a while, and I am glad it has finally arrived. The discussion of the reading with my peers helped me make connections that I had not made with my reading, and I am beginning to acquire a greater perspective on the origin and nature of this social issue.

I enjoyed getting to know my peers today with ice breakers, although I was uncomfortable at times sharing so much of myself with people who I didn’t know very well. Sharing deep and profound parts of who you are makes you vulnerable and opens you up to be judged by those around you. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and I applaud all who did that today.

Once we arrived in St. Petersburg, we stopped at Publix to buy a few meals for the week. Each team received $50 with which to purchase food to make a meal and some sort of appetizer or dessert. This amount of money is so much more than many families have to buy meals, but it was still a challenge to meet everyone’s needs with this substantial amount of money. Each team had to make sacrifices, and not everyone could buy what they wanted because of the financial limitations. Also, because healthy foods are much more expensive, the teams had to buy the less expensive and less nutritionally valuable foods. At the same time, this situation was not an emergency. Each of us knew we would be fed, and I’m sure most of us had some cash in our wallets if push came to shove. I never really have to think about my next meal, and I have never had to live under the burden of that worry like so many in America.