It had been a long day, and I did not want to go. After spending much of the day in staff training meetings doing important yet exhausting work, the last thing that I wanted to do was attend a holiday party. With the stress of impending Christmas travel on my brain, I wanted to go home, pack, and take time to “introvert”, as my sister calls it. However, I knew that our chef had worked very hard to bring this gathering together, so I headed down to the kitchen out of obligation.
Then something funny happened. As the staff filed in, wrapped white elephant gifts in one hand and a holiday food or treat in the other, the mood started to lift. People slowly switched out of “all day meeting” mode and into enjoying themselves and being fully present in the moment. The kitchen staff brought out 3 whole turkeys, and the side table was suddenly full of gifts. The room only got louder as we marveled over homemade macaroni and cheese, met each other’s spouses and families, and went back for seconds.
One huge highlight of the gathering was when a staff member volunteered to share his talent as a rapper. As he performed an original song about accepting and loving ALL of the people around you and wanting the same in return, the whole room was captivated, with tears falling from a few eyes during the huge round of applause at the end.
Our executive director gave a short but meaningful toast to the room, thanking everyone for the hard work and dedication over the course of the year, and then invited others to share as well. The rapper speaks up. He thanks us for letting him share his talent, saying this is the best place that he has ever worked, and he’s so grateful for all of us and the community we share together. Then another staff member stood up, and said something like this:
“I am so grateful for you all. As someone who came through the Green Opportunities kitchen training program and is now part of the staff, I have felt so welcome and included by every person here. There are days when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. But then you all tell me that you believe in me, and that I can do it. And that makes me start to believe in myself too.”
And that’s when I got it.
I finally understood for myself what Selena told me on week 2. The true beauty of Green Opportunities isn’t in the training programs we have or the services we offer, although we work very hard at those. The beauty of Green Opportunities is in how the people in that room come together as a family. Wallflower that I am, as I stood and observed the room, I saw so much diversity. Our staff has people who are black and white. Gay, straight, and non-binary. Of Christian and Jewish faith traditions, and no faith traditions at all. Some people have been in jail or prison. Some have partners and or kids. Some are GO graduates. Some have college degrees. There is so much diversity in our staff AND we find ways every day to work together.
I stood with another case manager and met his wife as we chatted with our communications manager. Our executive director and one of the accountants were yelling over the din for someone to find a pack of cards so they could play right then and there. As I looked around in this crystallized moment, it was so meaningful to see everyone across all levels of staff swapping gifts and spending time together over food.
Here at Green Opportunities, and in this moment, we all have a seat at the table.
In my work as a case manager, it’s so easy to focus on the setbacks and get stuck in the weeds. Recently, I’d been missing the point, the bigger picture. At the end of the day, what we as Green Opportunities offer to our community is proof that it’s possible for people from all different circumstances, in both the past and the present, to come together to support each other and work for the good of the community.
We choose to celebrate and honor our differences rather than letting them divide us.
I’m so grateful to be a part of this organization, and I have so much more to learn from these people who show me every day how to be an intentional community.
Finally, thank you to everyone who has donated to my YAV fundraising! I’m incredibly happy to announce that I hit my goal on Christmas Eve 📷 I am so glad to have a community that supports me personally, emotionally, and financially. The work of fundraising in the non-profit world is never done though! If you feel led to do so, you can donate here or by mailing a check made out to Hands and Feet of Asheville to 789 Merrimon Ave. Asheville, NC 28804. Any donations made at this point go toward reaching our Asheville YAV group goal and making our final retreat possible!