Better Every Day: Dwaynae’s Bread for the City Story
Growing up in some of the worst parts of Brooklyn, New York, I never thought there was enough assistance in big cities to assist families living in low-income areas. My parents tried their best to make sure we had enough food, clothing, and housing growing up, but everything was so difficult that we still faced a lot of challenges. In New York, we had to go through the shelter process a few times. That meant we traveled back and forth to the Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU), completing lots of paperwork, and moving in and out of different buildings.
Once, our family was kicked out of a shelter and lost everything. We lost everything another time after our apartment was set on fire. (I remember our house caught on fire the day before my middle school senior trip, and the only clothes I had were the clothes on my back until Red Cross, and a few family members and friends, assisted us.) We could have used a resource like Bread for the City. We didn’t have that, but what I went through gave me a heart that loves to assist people, and I can relate to people who have been through housing situations like my family.
A year-and-a-half ago, I moved to Washington, D.C. to become a Public Ally. Public Allies is an AmeriCorps program committed to advancing social justice and equity by engaging and activating the leadership capacities of young people. Through Public Allies, I obtained my current position as the SE Volunteer & Clothing Room Coordinator at Bread for the City. I didn’t know then that it was going to be such a great life experience for me. I have learned and continue to learn valuable lessons everyday while working for this amazing organization.
Working in the clothing room is a challenge. On my first day here, a food pantry staff member told me “be prepared” because new faces get tested. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, Lord … I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into!” But then I quickly reminded myself that I had been through a lot and can deal with anything.
Everything about the experience was new to me. I had to be tough and courteous at the same time to run the space. My first year, I had BFC Pre-Employment Program interns working under me that were 15-20 years older than me. Through my work with the clients, I was suddenly interacting with the different personalities of 200 people a week, plus groups of volunteers from all walks of life. In short, I had to quickly grow up, become more flexible, and learn how to behave in a mature and professional manner … things I hadn’t considered before.
That was tough at first. Occasionally, our clients come in with what might be considered bad attitudes or negative energy, then they try to vent their frustrations on the staff. Once, a lady even threw a bag in my face and walked out of the building! At that moment, I felt very upset, disrespected and confused, but I also remembered the many lessons I’ve learned from Bread for the City’s staff, including the fact that people aren’t usually mad at us, but the situation they’re going through. I remembered that the woman’s response likely had very little to do with me, and that I have self-control, so every bad thing that happens doesn’t require a reaction. I also remembered that most of our clients set a good example every day. Many clients volunteer with me alongside community members, committed to giving back to the organization that helps them. These things helped me to remember to be courteous and to make sure the next client received my smile regardless of what had happened earlier.
My coworkers at Bread for the City are great, and they’ve taught me that there really are people who’ll be in your corner. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by the clothing room work, other staff will often step in and help. They never have to (everyone has other work, of course), but they’ll help anyway, bringing donations in, sorting and hanging clothes, or taking over altogether for a little while so I can grab a bite for lunch.
I look forward to coming to work at Bread for the City every day. Serving here has opened my eyes to a whole new way of life, and this organization has taught me that the community has to stick together and have each other’s backs for everyone to thrive. Most of all, Bread for the City has taught me that there’s always room to grow, and though my Public Allies service corps year ends in June, I plan to keep growing for the rest of my life.
Dwaynae’s work at Bread for the City is made possible by Public Allies, and our clothing room is supported by generous in-kind donations from our community.