Pat learns that patience really is a virtue
former teacher forms special connection with homeless teens
For soft-spoken, former high-school-science teacher Pat Alberts, it all started when her father got sick. She stood by him through is struggle with illness, hospice and ultimately death. The experience inspired her to volunteer with hospice. For a year and a half she sat every week with a different dying woman—offering a hand and an ear during a difficult time.
“It was such an honor to work with someone during the end of their life,” says Pat of the experience. “But after a while, I wanted to balance it out by also working with someone with a future.” That’s where Crosswalk comes into the picture.
Pat had driven past Crosswalk—on the corner of Second and Howard in downtown Spokane—for years but didn’t really know what it was all about. After a few inquiries she learned it was a teen shelter, a school and a place where teens in crisis could get a hot meal, a warm bed and an education. She loved the idea.
“When I was a teenager, we didn’t have Crosswalk as an option. Some of us had to either sleep outside or sleep at an unsafe place.” While she was not homeless herself, Pat admits, “When I was a teenager, I was an at-risk youth myself. I hung out at People’s Park a lot when I should have been in school.”
For Pat, volunteering with at-risk youth offered her a chance to help someone recognize and reach their potential.
“It can be hard to see kids with so much potential, making destructive decisions. People are quick to pass judgment, but I don’t judge them. I encourage them to make good decisions, but I do not judge them when they don’t. I know there are people out there who look down on the youth here or are afraid of them. But I know they are all innately good.”
Pat chose volunteering at Crosswalk as a way to prove that even kids in trouble are good people.
Her first Friday night working as a volunteer at Crosswalk things went pretty smoothly—maybe a little too smoothly. The atmosphere in the shelter that night was laid back and quiet. The kids were nice but didn’t really engage with her.
“I didn’t worry about it too much though,” says Pat. “I knew it would take some time for them to relax and feel more comfortable around me.”
Her strategy was this: be there and be approachable. She started by bringing in a project of her own. As long as she was interested in her work she could be content even if the kids didn’t join in. Her hope was that the kids would see her enjoying herself and want to join her.
One particular Friday night, she was customizing a sweater, when one of the Crosswalk kids approached her. The girl was tailoring her own suit and asked Pat to help her with it. Pat has tried bringing in lots of different activities but the kids seem drawn to the more creative pursuits.
“During my time as a high school teacher I saw how much kids really like to tap into their creative side,” she says. “They learn more from creating something and then evaluating what they have just created.”
Over the weeks and months, Pat settled on bringing craft supplies for the kids to make bracelets and necklaces out of rope and beads. A typical Friday night begins with Pat setting up at one of the tables in the main floor of Crosswalk. In the center of the table, she places various containers of beads and a big pile of different colors of rope. Every week she comes in, quietly sits down and starts working on things amongst the kids.
The copious amount of craft material she brings in each week is all on her own limited budget which makes what she does all the more impressive. Pat wishes she could afford to bring in more things. Throughout the night, kids freely take what they like from her pile of supplies.
Some of the kids sit with Pat at the table. Others come over, politely ask for material, and then [Crosswalk teen shelter exterior] return to distant tables in their own small groups. Throughout the night a steady stream of both boys and girls comes and goes at the table.
The kids often ask for her opinion or her help. Throughout a typical night she fields a barrage of questions: “can you start this for me?”; “Is this enough rope?”; “How did you do it like that?”; “Does blue go with this color?”; “Do you think this look good?”
While in the beginning months nobody paid her much attention, now all the kids sit with her at some point throughout the night. They are drawn to her easy manner and enjoy creating things with her—even when there are plenty of other things to do on a Friday night. In fact, the staff at Crosswalk loves the fact that Pat attracts kids during a prime social time when kids could be out getting into trouble.
She stays busy answering questions, measuring rope, helping someone start a project, and showing kids how to work out a problem they are struggling with in making something. But she still lets the kids come to her. Never pushing, never prying—Pat’s patience has paid off.
She likes to think the kids know she is always willing to help, but still stresses, “I like to give them control in what they are doing and making—even in our conversations. This place is full of stories of psychical, sexual, & emotional abuse. There are so many areas in their lives where they have no control. I can at least give them that respect.”
Pat’s story is all about being present. Being patient.
“I always let the conversation ramble. You look for those ‘teaching’ moments where you can share with them some advice” but Pat adds the most important thing is” just to offer understanding and a listening ear – even if it is just small talk.”
“I’m not here to save anybody,” she adds, shaking her head. “They can only do that for themselves.” Then after a moment lost in thought, Pat points to the rainbow of rope, beads and trinkets that sparkle and shimmer on the table.
“I try to bring in crafts that are bright. I just want to help the kids make color & beauty in their lives.”