I realized, thinking over my last Blog, that it was a little intense. I seem to be on a spiel of writing about my own philosophy–Dickensian and not–of writing about my own philosophy of social work. I did all kinds of things for Breakthrough–teaching basic grammar and math, cooking, cleaning–but it occurs to me that I should bring up one of my more “lighthearted” gifts to the club members. For years I had worked in the school, teaching a variety of students, from a member who had a head injury and needed to relearn skills he had before his accident to a member who had never heard of the Holocaust until a workbook had her read a selection of The Diary of Anne Frank. Yet after a certain number of years teaching, I kind of got burnt out on it and found other ways to benefit the patients.
First, I started celebrating Jewish holidays at Breakthrough. It was only fair; they already celebrated all the Christian ones–Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, once even Easter. So I got permission to have a program for Erev Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Pesach (Passover). My first (and only) Erev Yom Kippur, I fixed a Honey Cake, and served it with cool whip, coffee, and cream. Then I read a speech explaining the fact that part of the purpose of Yom Kippur is learning to forgive. We are supposed to both apologize to those we have harmed, and to forgive those who have harmed us. Then there is Hanukkah, which I did at least twice. I served latkes (which I made), jelly donuts (which I got from Krispy Kreme) and carbonated grape juice (which I got from the grocery store). One year I read to them from Maccabees, another time I played Israeli Folksongs. Then there was Pesach, for which I made the Horseradish and Charoset (and boiled eggs and cut celery) for the seder plate. On the second time, we went through the motions of going through the Haggadah reading.
I was always a little self-conscious of doing these things at Breakthrough; the majority of the members were Christian, after all… and a few of them did react badly, though I believe most of them enjoyed it. The staff, I believe, also enjoyed these activities. I also, over time, learned to do “secular” things, like making and decorating cupcakes for Valentine’s Day year or dipping strawberries in chocolate or fixing special foods for ordinary lunches. Most of them went well, but not all of them. When I got the recipe for Aztec (Ancient Mexican) cocoa, it did not go over that well. (The drink is spicey more than sweet, but I also remember that attendance was low that day.) However, over all it was a wonderful experience for me, I believe that on making butternut squash and chickpea soup for the patients one of them said, “She’s no mere do-gooder.” High praise indeed.
Oh, there were days when I was little more than a secretary, but those aren’t the times I remember. It is funny when something is in the past, you remember the good times more than the bad. Doing work at Breakthrough was rewarding because I could give to others, and I hugely encourage to find their niche in the world to give beyond what is expected to “get by” as an average citizen. That one night you work at the homeless shelter dishing out soup may become important to you; in the end when you look back on it, you will not just ask, “Was I honest in business?” but “Who did I give to?”