Today we got the opportunity to see a different side of this community and the effects the tornado has taken. It wasn’t the image of a house filled with trees or the sight of an empty lot but the individuals that have lived through this disaster and trying to make the best of it. It was those fighters and motivators that have shown me that the city of Tuscaloosa is moving forward.
Compassion from the day was filled with characters that will make me put a face to this trip outside of the leaders AFLV brought together. In order to fully understand the compassion of today I want you to meet these individuals.
First there was Anita. A wild personality that greeted us in her cowboy polka dot rain boots as we got our site for the day, the Tuscaloosa Temporary Emergency Services thrift store and warehouse. As the coordinator of the day, her heart was filled with giving as she pushed the message that you want a person to leave with their day brighter then they came. It was the small act of helping a woman find a shirt when just coming in for a Christmas hat that changed the mood of the location and our group into an environment that wanted to do whatever they could to make someone else’s day brighter. Compassion was shown in her interactions with families, staff and friends that made it made the act of helping others effortless because it is the right thing to do.
But we can’t forget Katie. A 17 year old junior that took time out of her winter break to work at the warehouse filling baskets with donated toiletries to sorting through dozens of bags filled with toys. For her it was about knowing that even as a teenager, there are individuals out there that have less than her and they need any and all help. It made me think of myself as a 17 year old and how foolish my actions were because I was so focused on myself then others. Her compassion knew the priorities in life and that by this disaster there was a way out.
To better understand these people we cannot forget where we were. My group was placed in the middle of the donation warehouse where families that were affected by the tornado would come to get what little supplies they needed to maintain stability. You see endless racks of donated clothes and a hole in the roof that had buckets under it to understand that to some it would be considered run down and filled with clothes of various sizes and socks with no match but to those that needed it, it was a place to find a warm coat, water and if they were lucky, a Christmas gift. It easily became our home and a place I wanted to spend endless hours to help others. It was the home of compassion.
And lastly, I would like you to meet me. The young college student that has recently become an alumni of her chapter and is about to enter the real world and graduate. Knowing or meeting me though, you would never guess I used to be a child and a daughter from a family that didn’t have the support to make ends meet. I was the little girl that got gifts under her tree from the Salvation Army or would go with my mom to the food bank to fill our shelves to make it to the next month. It was people like Anita and places like the warehouse that showed the compassion I didn’t know I needed.
But, as our day continued you can’t forget the families. A little nervous at first to try and assume what they need but that feeling washed away when you met the families and shopped for them and their children. As I was bagging up coats for a young woman and her husband, it was the moment she reached over the bags to give me a hug that it hit me. She was the reason I was here. I wasn’t here to clean a yard or cut vines but it was to make a difference. Her hug, so innocent and sincere brought me to the reality of where I was and the effect we were making in the few days we were here. It wasn’t to see a house built but to build up peoples hope that there were people here that just wanted to help.
Compassion. The feeling when you want to jump around and scream with Anita because she just found a donated designer coat for a woman, the feeling when you find a purse at the bottom of a donated box that would be perfect for a daughter’s Christmas gift and the feeling that as you get that tears come to your eyes when you drive away and want to stay because you know what little help you can provide if just enough. Compassion was shown towards me and now I know how to return it many years later.
This trip has pushed our boundaries, living conditions and cultural experiences to a new level. It has asked us to step outside of our comfort zone to see that our ways and views are different but together we can find that compassion to change ourselves, families and the community of Tuscaloosa.
See you in California! Roll Tide!
Kasey Schoen is a senior at California State University, Long Beach and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.