Marilyn does not know this, but on the day I saw her sitting in a cold, folding chair in the homeless shelter, she changed my life. She is a mousey, brown-haired, sophomore, who I later learned, comes to the shelter every Wednesday with her mother and her little brother. She carries everything she owns in a beat-up backpack including her schoolbooks and pens. After dinner is served, and the tables are cleaned, Marilyn gets right to work. She spreads her notebook and her World History book out on the table and pretends that the rest of us do not exist.
My first night as a volunteer in our community shelter was eye-opening and humbling. All the preconceived ideas I had about the type of people who frequented shelters were blown-away after ten minutes in the place. Marilyn’s story was the most life changing. One of my fellow volunteers shared what she knew about this young high school student with me.
It seems that Marilyn’s father died, and their house was foreclosed upon shortly after his death. With no skills and no means to pay for the house, Marilyn’s mother moved the family in with her relatives. When that no longer worked, they began moving from shelter to shelter every night. Knowing that having a good education leads to better opportunity, Marilyn’s mother pushed her to keep up with her studies despite the circumstances. Therefore, every evening, Marilyn and her family enter a community shelter, they eat dinner together, and she works on her studies.
Her classmates at school do not know that she showers, sleeps, and eats breakfast at a homeless shelter every day. They do not know that sometimes Marilyn does not have the comforts of a TV, a phone, or a computer. There are times when items such as clean socks or sanitary napkins are not available for this young girl.
To say that Marilyn is admirable is more than an understatement. She is the epitome of words like courageous, determined, and invincible. The things that she overcomes every day to be an honor student would break most people, but she perseveres.
Sometimes, we find heroes in the most unusual places. I found mine in a homeless shelter. It is my hope that Marilyn will finish high school and receive a scholarship to college. A few of the volunteers at the shelter pooled their resources together to help Marilyn and her family. They found a permanent residence and even have had a fundraiser to help finance Marilyn’s college education.
I owe Marilyn much gratitude for changing my outlook. I clearly was ignorant. I imagine that after you read this story, it will change yours, too.
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