Looking Back on our 5th Anniversary, 2015

Five years ago, today The INN Between opened it’s doors. I had been following it closely, having signed up a month prior to volunteer. It would still be a couple of weeks before I walked through the doors to begin my service, but I feel it had already had me in its grip and my life was on a new path. 

My first day volunteering was spent cutting fruits and vegetables to freeze in the kitchen at the old Guadalupe school. I spent hours doing that and getting to know Maria who was managing the operation as a volunteer. My first day there I met Jim. He had walked over from the old convent next door where our residents were residing. I answered the door and introduced myself. He introduced himself as Charles Manson and his laugh sealed our friendship. We didn’t have many people there at that time, just three when I began. Olivia died on my second day of volunteering. Thomas shortly after. I knew Thomas, he had been a staple at the Costco by my house. He was friendly and had regular visitors bringing him various things. He died of kidney failure with our house manager Chris at his side. I made cupcakes for his service but could not attend due to a previously planned trip with my family. As I was preparing to leave Maria called me and asked if I would consider applying to be the volunteer coordinator. She lived in Arizona and it was time for her to head home. I spent that weekend with my family, and we talked over what me returning to work would look like and if we were ready for that. I had been very fortunate after my own struggles with homelessness and struggling to survive, to have remarried and had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. My youngest was 10 and this would be a big change. I  felt strongly that this was what I was meant to do, where I was meant to be. I made plans to meet with Kim Correa the day I returned. 

I began the interview with “I have no experience and no schooling”. I was off to a great start. Kim said she just felt I was the person for this job and asked if I could start that day. I said I could only work part time. I worked over 40 my first week. I think about that meeting a lot. The faith that Kim had in me lit a fire. I quickly learned that volunteer coordinating was so important but that running the house had to be first. I asked Kim if she was comfortable with me setting some ground rules and she said that she trusted me to do whatever I felt necessary. I ran with that. My confidence grew and our program grew. She allowed me to build the program as I saw fit and pushed me towards connections, trainings and conferences that would help build my knowledge and skills. 

My family was so supportive. My youngest was home schooling for a brief time when I started, and she was our secretary at the front desk at the school. She celebrated Jim’s birthday with us just before he died. My sons both played guitar and drums with various residents. My oldest daughter became an EMT and was a regular visitor for lunch. My husband organized his work Christmas parties to benefit The INN Between. It was not without its heartache though. Dying does not happen on a schedule. There were a lot of middle of the night calls, running to sit with someone or make calls to family to let them know their loved ones have left us. Scared calls from someone that just needed reassurance they were not alone. Sometimes my kids got frustrated. I sometimes felt torn and I struggled to find a balance. 

I have always been a talker; I get that from my mama. There are no strangers, just people you have not yet met. I cannot tell you how lucky I am to get to meet so many people. Volunteers, community partners, teachers, and activists but, most of all our residents. Going out to provide outreach to someone is one of my favorite things. To meet someone in their space and shake their hand and sit and talk is where I feel most at home. Being able to bring them into our home and help care for them is a bonus. Not everyone chooses to take that opportunity and that’s okay too. Our relationship continues, just outside the walls of The INN Between. 

Don’t get me wrong. Not all memories are sweet. I know what end stage liver failure looks like and can spot the signs a mile away. I know what an overdose looks like and have experience with Narcan. I have seen how mental illness can convince you that steel wool can clean a wound better than anything else. I know what tumors look like if they are left untreated. I know what the face of someone with a life of regret looks like as they cry and wish for more time. These are important things to remember too sometimes.  

The first year of The INN Between was special. It was so new; we were just figuring it out as we went. We were lucky that it was filmed by KUED and I like to go back once in a while and watch it. Seeing everyone alive and hearing their voices fills me with love and renews my passion for The INN Between. I keep phone messages for this same reason. Hearing Jimmy say, “Hey sugar, come talk to me when you get here.” Or Harry, reminding me that he’s moving in today and can I please come pick him up. I have beautiful letters from so many and Kelly gave me a card for every holiday imaginable. Every night I walk my dog past the deli that Tom worked in and I say hi to him. I dropped him off there so many times, scolding him for not bringing his inhaler, making sure he had a ride back to the INN. I still talk to family members whose loved ones are long gone. We reminisce about final days and funny stories. My life is better for having known these people. I wish there were a way I could make our residents understand when they say they have left nothing behind or haven’t contributed to this world that they have left part of themselves. And not with just me. To all that are a part of the INN. The volunteers, the staff, the people that stop through to take a tour and remember that cantankerous woman who told them, all she needs in life is a cigarette. Or the man that drummed his heart out with not a care in the world. People remember. I remember. 

We usually celebrate our anniversary with a party. I remember the year Larry drank so much soda that he panicked. The year that we did the fishing game and Glenn had amassed a hoard of candy. And every year watching Kristiina go down the waterslide. I will miss that this year. I am going to celebrate this anniversary in this new world the best way I know how. By remembering. I will start at our first home, where so many memories remain as well as some of the ashes of those we loved. I’ll recall Char driving up to the parking lot after her long winter drive from Montana, coming to get treatment and begging for a hot cup of coffee. Billy bringing us a hamburger and French fries he made for lunch. Sitting at the dining room table with Candace trying to help her not stress about a thousand pieces of paper she wants to file before she dies. Sitting by John’s bed with my phone at his ear so his daughter can say her goodbyes from jail. I will walk into our new home, filled with so many more memories, Tim and BooBoo walking the halls, Harry lounging outside with a cigarette. Willy writing in his journal so his daughter can read about him someday. I’m looking forward to the next five years of memories, excited to see who I will meet and what new things I will learn to help assist those that need us.  

And you, I will think about all those that have walked through our doors over the past five years to help and love and support our mission and our residents. I look forward to seeing you all again soon I hope, thank you. We are so blessed.  

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