How does one describe the feeling of family? Safe? Comforting? Being at ease? These and more are the sentiments one feels when walking into Room in the Inn (RITI). This is all done intentionally.
I had the great pleasure of being able to work with Sarah, Volunteer Odyssey’s founder, this fine evening. First, let me provide some background on RITI. RITI started in Nashville in 1986 with four congregations committing to sheltering the homeless through the winter and spring. Since then the Nashville program has grown leaps and bounds while the Memphis chapter started in 2010. RITI’s mission is to help provide a sense of hospitality for the homeless. In order to achieve this, RITI provides a number of guests with a hot dinner, a hot shower, warm clothes and a warm bed for the evening. It is all provided with the good company of those who run and volunteer. The piano will be played, songs will be sung and, if my experience is any indicator, a good time will be had by all.
Sarah and I started our evening by helping Laura, the on-site coordinator for RITI at Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church, prep the beds. We stripped the beds and remade them with fresh sheets, pillow cases and blankets. When the guests leave, they are allowed to take the blanket with them.
We then moved into the best part of the evening; dinner time. On the menu tonight was homemade chili. Not only was the chili delicious, it was quite the conversation starter! Everyone there had an opinion on not only the best style of chili, but the best toppings and even the best kind of tomatoes to use! One of the guests, James, is a chili connoisseur. We had a great conversation and traded recipes which I hope to be trying out soon.
Another friend I made at RITI was a gentleman named Mark. Mark is just full of smiles. We became fast friends when he complimented my red cowboy boots. Compliments are always the quickest way to my heart.
Although Mark liked my boots, he preferred his own black boots. Originally from Nashville, Mark loves country music. He actually had the opportunity to stand in the ring onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. He had great stories about his time in Nashville. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to learn more about Mark and his story.
After dinner, Sarah, Laura and I proceeded up to the clothes closet where we not only helped to sort a large quantity of clothing donations we also helped guests find new clothing and accessories they needed. Sorting through the clothes I was struck with two sentiments. First, I should never work in retail. Second, on a more serious note, the quality of some of the donations were laughable at best. Some of the clothing we went through had holes, stains or maybe seemed dirty. That is completely unacceptable. However, Laura has no qualms about what is appropriate and will readily deny clothing in poor conition. It is a true testament to her success and the high standards that RITI holds for their guests that she makes such distinctions.
Friends, I’m not going to lie. At first, I was a little nervous about volunteering at RITI. I’m not sure why but I think I was a little anxious about the role I would play. Those feelings quickly dissipated upon entering the church and talking to everyone there. I felt surrounded by love, warmth, and friendship. It was like going to a family member’s house and getting to meet people from all over with the best stories. These kinds of experiences help to clarify that “doing community service” is so much more than being a body that can help make beds, cook food or even provide clothes; it’s all about connections. The connections that you can make with someone just by having a conversation can be life changing. There are very few feelings that are better than being heard and feeling as though your voice is important. There is certainly room in the inn for all when the conversation is open to all.
Until next time,