An Intern's Life at St. Elizabeth Shelter

One of the many job tasks as an intern at St. Elizabeth Shelter

I spent the last twelve months with the homeless—eating, chatting, sharing, living, and learning. They, in turn, will remain with me for the rest of my life, giving me a deeper sense of home, wherever that may be. —Sarah Dolen

It's 6:30 a.m. and I vaguely hear my alarm calling me into consciousness. After one or two hits of the snooze button, I roll out of bed, brush my teeth, pull on some clothes, and make my thirty-second commute to work. I am one of the St. Elizabeth Shelter Residential Interns.

From an outsider's perspective, my job may look deceptively simple. While working the day shift, the other interns and I are responsible for monitoring guests' chores and medication, running errands, and making sure the shelter gets put back together for the guests' return at 3:00 p.m. This consists of doing laundry, restocking supplies, and a significant amount of cleaning. The evening shift entails much more direct interaction with the guests and often requires that we make the weighty decision of who gets a bed and who must sleep outside. We also supervise dinner and chores, monitor medication, conduct new guest intakes, and complete any necessary paperwork.

My job, however, is so much more than the sum total of the loads of laundry I wash and fold each day.

Like many others, I applied to become an intern with the shelter hoping to find an entrée into the social work field, learn about operating a nonprofit, and get some experience in case management. I will soon complete my internship with my expectations fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams.

I watched in amazement as two people, once perfect strangers, sat in the dining room and laughed together far into the night, neither knowing more than ten words of the other's language. I saw a fifty-year-old and an eight-year-old become best friends, each caring for the other with seemingly no regard to the chronological divide between them. In the midst of winter, I witnessed a police officer fetch his own down coat out of his cruiser and give it to a man wearing nothing but a thin T-shirt. During the holiday season, I went through literally hundreds of boxes of goods donated by the community in the hopes that our guests would have, if not a roof over their heads, at least a pair of new gloves on their hands come Christmas morning. I commiserated with young women who, like myself, were having "boy trouble" or problems with their parents. I lived in an apartment where young people from twenty to thirty-two years old came together from all across the country to live out their conviction that everyone deserves a warm bed, a hot meal, and the right to be treated with respect, kindness, and love.

Meal Gathering at St. Elizabeth ShelterThese and the myriad of other experiences I've had have taught me when it's appropriate to trust others and when it's appropriate to trust my gut instincts. I know how to create boundaries and recognize when it's okay to let down my guard a bit. I've also learned to identify my own flaws, the situations that provoke them, and how best to surmount them.

On a recent trip home to Washington, D.C., I saw a number of homeless people in the streets, soliciting donations or attempting to barter odd jobs in exchange for food or a place to stay the night. Whereas before my internship, I may have preemptively crossed the street or, at the very least, averted my eyes, I now found myself actually seeking eye contact because I knew these people.

I spent the last twelve months with them—eating, chatting, sharing, living, and learning. They, in turn, will remain with me for the rest of my life, giving me a deeper sense of home, wherever that may be.

Article contributed by Sarah Dolan

St. Elizabeth Shelter: Building Futures. Changing Lives.To learn more about St. E's internship program:
Maria Lopez, Program Manager
St. Elizabeth Shelter
804 Alarid St.
Santa Fe, NM 87505
(505) 982-6611

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