That was such a long Day! It began at 4AM; getting ready to catch an early morning flight to LA with my service group. Fun fact, this was my first time to the west coast!
Leaving a frigid Chicago, I arrived 1740 miles later in sunny and warm LAX. During the descent I looked in awe at the beautiful, snow peaked mountains, a far cry from the flat landscape in the midwest. A little jet lagged and sleep deprived, I was still so excited to be there! I admit that at first I could only think of how close I was to so many celebrities and all the media that glamorize LA. Logistics and Miley Cyrus songs aside, we arrived at the St. Vincent DePaul Cardinal Manning Center, an emergency shelter that offers services and meals to those in need.
My fellow group members and I were really kept in the dark as to where we would be staying and the activities and places we were going to visit. At the Cardinal Manning Center we met Connor, a case manager, and our host for the week. After settling in a bit, Connor took us on a walking tour of Skid Row. This was a surreal experience.
Sure, I Googled Skid Row before I left and pictures came up of streets lined with tents, garbage, and people who were homeless with their belongings. It seemed stereotypical and possibly cliché. Well, I felt like one of those photos had come alive and I was now a part of it.
Walking in a line like baby ducklings following behind Connor, I observed with all of my senses: the smells, sights, sounds. I felt so out-of-place as there were stark contrasts between my service group and those we passed by. Some peopled yelled at us and others just stared in confusion. It was almost like being in a museum looking at Skid Row through a pane of glass, not sure yet how to interact with this community. I recall noticing that Connor was so calm and collected, while I was anxious and uncomfortable (extracted thousands of miles from my Lincoln Park bubble). This reassured me of my safety and made me feel a little more at ease.
The theme of the day was sensory overload. I was in a foreign environment, meeting new people, learning about my new home for the next week, and trying to take it all in like an over-saturated sponge. You have probably had a similar expereince in a new environment. Please share!