I was convinced to start volunteering at the Charter House by a friend who was enrolled in the J-Term internship with the community non-profit. When I showed up for my first shift I awkwardly stumbled around the kitchen trying to be of as much use as possible, but like the first couple days at a new job, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing or where anything was. I admit that as I was preparing the dinner and setting the table for the night’s dinner I was apprehensive about how the individuals staying at the warming shelter would receive me. I have never been homeless myself and my exposure to homelessness until then didn’t range beyond the few conversations I have had with a few homeless individuals I saw regularly in my hometown.
We all sat down for dinner and immediately began chatting about the weather, recent happenings around town and the jeopardy episode that was idling in the background. We were all arranged around the table family-style, which felt very foreign compared to the rushed solo meals in Ross I eat more often than I’d like to admit, or the loud, crowded tables of Atwater. The last time I can remember sitting down for a meal like this was Thanksgiving two years ago when I found myself skirting sensitive political (and personal) topics with my extended family. The dinners I’ve had this past semester at the Charter House have been a great break from the routine-driven life we all lead on campus. They offer a unique opportunity to leave behind all the busywork, nagging reminders, and problems we have at school and focus on spending time with some fantastic individuals who you would otherwise never interact with.
I am a bit embarrassed to think back on my apprehension the first day I volunteered at the Charter House. The individuals utilizing the warming shelter services are extremely grateful for a warm meal and some new company to talk with. Everyone involved with the coalition has been more than welcoming to me and it has been an unexpected reward to get the chance to make friends with more members in the Middlebury community outside of the college. It’s hard to see how little exposure there is to the community when you’re on campus, but getting out of our world every once and awhile has proved to be more refreshing than I would have ever expected.
-Will Melhado ’15
To learn more about the Charter House go here!