Are We Making a Difference

We are asked this question fairly often. And it’s a fair question, one that we ask ourselves as well. In all the various things we do, are we actually making a difference?

If you ask us in person we will usually share a story or two of when we definitely made a difference. These are the easy answers. We have talked people down from suicide, helped people get jobs, visited people in jail or hospital when they really wanted someone there.

Much harder to assess are the day-to-day encounters. Handing someone a hot coffee on a cool morning, stopping to talk for a while, playing a crazy group game Wednesday evening. Do these really make a difference?

One answer came to me (Bruce) this week. I was visiting one of the “hotels” downtown where our friends live. There was a new person at the office window, and she said, “You know, you remind me of a guy who used to hand out cigarettes to us on the street.” I smiled and said that was probably me. “Did you work with a really cool guy with a white Mohawk?” Yep, that was Ken, our founder. Then she smiled a huge smile and started to tell me how much of a difference we had made in her life.

The weird thing is, this wasn’t some perfect moment like in the movies. She didn’t change because of a heroic effort on our part. In her own words, “That was years ago when I was using drugs all the time. You guys knew I was a user, but you loved me anyway. It was crazy that you would do that, but it meant the world to me. You guys loved me before I learned to love me.” She is now three years clean and sober and the smile on her face is awesome!

Did we make a difference? She says we did. But here’s what stumps me – up until this chance encounter we had no idea. From our viewpoint she was with us for a while then stopped coming. We didn’t know where she went or what happened. We didn’t know the answer to the question.

How do we decide if we are making a difference when a fair number of the people we get to meet disappear before we know the outcome? I think that’s called faith. We believe we are making a difference. We have enough stories to know it’s not blind faith, but for the most part we hope and pray and keep on meeting people and doing what we can. Mostly we love people right where they are, even if they are drug users or grumpy or depressed. And at least part of the time that is exactly what makes a difference.