ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Mennonite Mission Network) — MaryBeth Cornelsen received an unexpected response when she asked Charles, a homeless man, how he was doing. Charles’ reply sparked a passion in Cornelsen led her to study social work and to advocate for the homeless.
“I am blessed,” Charles replied to Cornselson. “God allowed me to wake up today. I am blessed!”
Charles’ authentic character and concern for others caught the attention of everyone around him, especially Cornelsen. Every weekday morning, Charles would visit St. Martin’s Hospitality Center in Albuquerque, N.M., for a shower and a hot breakfast. He would leave at 10 a.m., often walking down the street and around the corner to the library, his only possessions in a backpack. And when he asked others the commonplace question, “How are you?” he meant it.
Cornelsen, a 2009-2010 Service Adventure worker from Weatherford, Okla., traded in the papers and deadlines of college for a year of meaningful service in Albuquerque. Her original assignment was at Learn and Play Childcare Center, a daycare in Albuquerque. Although Cornelsen loves children, two months was long enough to realize that it wasn’t her niche.
Cornelsen had visited various homeless shelters on church youth group trips, so when the opportunity came to move from the daycare to Saint Martin’s Hospitality Center, she jumped on it. She wanted to lend a hand to the homeless, regardless of whether or not they called themselves blessed the way that Charles did.
The shelter provides 240 to 400 people with daily showers, breakfast, mail, clothes, advocacy and behavioral health programs. As shelter assistant, Cornelsen aimed to empower and integrate Albuquerque’s homeless into the community by connecting each individual with the services that met their needs.
Like any city, Albuquerque’s streets are speckled with those who look like they’re going through tough times. As Cornelsen drove down Albuquerque streets with friends, they would often pass people who appeared to be homeless. She remembers her passengers asking, “Do you know them? Do you see them at the shelter?”
“Holding a cardboard sign does not make them a bad person,” Cornelsen said. “They’ve just fallen on a little bad luck.”
Bethany Bauman Baker, Cornelsen’s Service Adventure unit leader, was touched by the focus and motivation that working with the homeless gave Cornelsen. Bauman Baker told of a time when she and Cornelson went out for coffee together. A man approached the two women, asking for money. While excuses and skepticism weigh heavily in the minds of many, Cornelsen’s reaction was different, Bauman Baker remembers. Her hand automatically reached out to give the man a few coins: a symbol of passing on a blessing.
Cornelsen plans to study social work next fall at Tabor College, in Hillsboro, Kansas, so that she can “empower the people that need services.” While doing so, she hopes that others may realize their blessings as well.