The distance between us, isn’t. It simply isn’t. It doesn’t exist. Physically, she’s across the loading dock from me, sure, but the space we’re living in, it’s the same. It’s as safe and certain as any of us are at any point in our lives.
We are two women, on an unseasonably warm winter morning, waiting.
She’s waiting for the couch she selected to be loaded into her van so she can begin to furnish her new living space.
I’m waiting for whatever this year is going to bring for me. It’s a calendar of question marks and uncertainty and wondering.
I don’t know anything more that that. I don’t know the circumstances that brought her to Project Home Again, and I don’t need to. She’s a person, I’m a person. And that’s enough.
I know we are only a twist of fate, an unexpected phone call, a lean season, apart.
Two floors down, in the lowest level of an old mill building in the Merrimack Valley, Project Home Again opens it’s doors to social workers and their clients to come and gather the things that make a living space, a home. It’s a basement space, a cavernous room that is divided into sections and overflowing with the odds and ends and furnishings of life.
It’s sheets, rugs, towels, blankets. It’s picture frames, children’s books, candle holders, toys. It’s brushes and baby powder. It’s couches and coffee tables, arm chairs and foot stools. It’s the little things that we forget we could need, citrus juicers, measuring cups, can openers. More lampshades than I’ve ever seen in my life. Lampshades forever.
But, even more than the tangible things, the stuff of life, the space is filled with positive energy and outright joy. Not to be confused with happiness, which is circumstantial and fleeting, but joy. The deep, inner peace that does not water down when it’s raining, cannot be budged by a bad mood, and perfumes the space around it with it’s warmth, joy. Joy is at the very heart of Project Home Again.
The walls are brightly colored and there are hand painted posters everywhere you look, quotes and inspiration. Joy.
There are volunteers laughing, big belly laughs, as they load heavy furniture, as a team. Joy.
There is Nancy, whose smile is brighter than any of the bold colors on the walls. She began PHA fourteen years ago, responding to a friend who needed a stove, and somehow grew a non-profit success that has helped hundreds of families turn their houses into homes.
The success, isn’t in that Project Home Again has necessarily helped organize and move donated items into people’s homes. The success is in how they do it. It’s in the joy. The clients who walk through the doors could, at any moment, be you or I. They are people. And they are seen and talked to and served.
Volunteers work with clients, weaving through the aisles of couches and kitchen wear, helping them choose what they want and figure out what they need. In the back, they sift through and sort blankets and sheets, they maneuver their way through the rows of shelves of donated goods, organizing the process. On the loading dock, they move furniture to trucks.
In a back corner area, just past displays of pillows and blankets, Nancy sets up her favorite section. Home Decor. Para una casa bonita. She’s very intentional and careful, selecting just the right items to create a different style on each shelf. The hope is that someone will come in and envision the entire shelf in their home, and take it.
It’s an overwhelming thing, Nancy understands, trying to piece together an cohesive space, a warm and welcoming space. This is a small thing she can do, but simple acts, done with care are often the biggest.
I don’t know the clients who walked through the door on the morning I was there. But, they’re people. Like you, like me. And I know the stress of trying to assemble a house, how much effort it takes to turn four walls and a door into a home.
I was six months pregnant with our second child when we made the move to a small trailer park in southern NH. It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t easy. Pregnant, unsure of so many things, how we would afford to fill the refrigerator or pay for the oil when winter came, let alone thinking of things like pictures to hang on my new walls.
I remember Thanksgivings when boxes of food would be given to my husband and I at church. I remember how touched I was, by the simplest of things, that there were festive turkey napkins under the cans of cranberry sauce. That someone had thought to include a bag of red and green M&Ms.
Kindness, matters. Giving of your time, matters. Remembering that everyone is like you, that the distance, isn’t…matters.
How Project Home Again manages to do all of these things, and well, and with joy, is incredible. Hand me down sheets or a gently-worn love seat, may not seem like things that can change the world, but the hands that work together to fold the bedding, to move the furniture, to load the truck…they can.