Monday, April 30th is the last day Carlton will volunteer with Safe Haven after many years of service. He will help with dinner, engage with our families (especially with the children at the shelter) and he will stay overnight one last time. Tonight, we will give him a little send-off that will include a homemade cake (never store-bought for Carlton!).
Overnight volunteers, like Carlton, serve in a key volunteer role that has so many facets…as innkeeper, mentor, encourager-in-chief, educator, mediator, life coach. Carlton is heading to the Congo in Africa for a few months of service before heading to California to pursue his M.A. in Divinity. I knew this day would come. I even helped it arrive as I was one of the sources for his letters of recommendation. He was given a full scholarship for his academic pursuit. I am happy for Carlton as I know he belongs in the classroom, the pulpit, or in some more consistent service and leadership role to have greater impact and fulfill his own potential. But we – staff and our families – will miss him terribly.
Carlton was once a wealthy businessman involved in the movie and advertising industries. His life path led him in another direction, and he ended up embracing a life of service and prayer. Humility and equity guide his life now (we are publishing this blog after he leaves – he wouldn’t want the attention). Safe Haven has been one of the beneficiaries of his commitment to service – for that we are truly grateful. I think he is irreplaceable, but I am hoping others will be inspired to bring all the many gifts he brought our families.
What has made him so special to us… to Safe Haven? Maybe it has been his tattoos – Polynesian in nature and telling many personal stories — and his stories about his world travels and adventures. Maybe it is his belief in equity and social justice and how that is lived out in all his interactions with our families that made him so special. Maybe it has been about the lavish photo books on literature, history, geography and the quality movies he shared with our children (such as Hotel Rwanda) that opened up their minds and souls to a wider world of knowledge and possibilities. Or it could be that he cooked from scratch and brought in exotic foods and desserts for all and sometimes cooked with our children and families such as at the New Year’s Eve sushi party at Safe Haven. Or maybe it was the art projects where he encouraged some incredible and creative work from our children and produced a series of well-received posters. All this, and he speaks French.
Carlton told me the most important thing one can do for our families is just to sit with them – sit with them with complete equity in the tradition of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” He also sent out a message to all his friends the other morning: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” -Nelson Mandela. His books and movies and cooking and encouragement were his way of introducing our children to a richer education he imagined they didn’t experience in their schools. He trusted them with knowledge. He would also sit with our families through their suffering and set-backs as well as their victories. Affirm. Challenge. Encourage. Ask the best from them all – and from us as staff. That changed our many worlds. Made us all better. Made me better.
Carlton would sometimes come to my office just to talk. We would debate methodology v. theology (I think both debates are needed in this field); theory v. practice (ditto). Sometimes we discussed the colors of paint on the walls according to “color theory”. Other times, it was the role of daily expectations of clients in crisis v. big picture solutions. We didn’t always agree, on the surface, but deep down, I think we agreed absolutely on those values we both hold dear: family; faith (however defined); fairness and equity; education; kindness; compassion and empathy; humility; justice; peace.
Carlton, we – and I – will miss you (and your wonderful baking). Au revoir au revoir pour le moment.
Joyce Lavery is the executive director and CEO of Safe Haven Family Shelter.