by Intern Desk
Kelly Six is a service-learning student in the Management & Organizational Dynamics course at the University of San Francisco. Service-learning students spend a semester at St. Anthony’s doing service, learning about social issues and connecting their experience with their course work.
Going into my Service Learning partnership knowing very little about the St. Anthony’s Foundation, besides a few of the services that it provided for the community, there has been one thing that has stuck out since the beginning that has taught me the most about the foundation. From day one of orientation up until just the other day in a group reflection, the concept of “respect” has come up again and again. One of the top values of the foundation is what guides every action and decision made by the workers, the volunteers and the organization as a whole. This has taught me so much about the type of work that St Anthony’s does, and has been an inspiring lens to look at the world around me and guide the work that I do myself.
On my first day of service, I was asked to work in the front of the store, where the customers walk through to shop for their clothes at the Free Clothing Program. I was there first thing in the morning, which is the portion of the day that they serve the men. The first thing I noticed was that the store-front was clean and organized, exactly how the thrift stores that I shop at look like. Pants were ordered by size, all facing the same way and hung neatly on their hangers; shirts were categorized by style, size and even color in some places; baskets were all neatly piled by the front entrance. This was all done with a high level of respect for the customers. The ease, comfort and advantage of the customer had been carefully considered in each decision that was made about the arrangement of the store. Furthermore, (and most importantly) the other workers in the store treated the customers like friends. I’ve never seen so many smiles at 8 AM in a “regular” store as I did at the Free Clothing Program. Workers would joke and laugh with customers, do whatever it took to make their mornings easier, and go out of their way to find something a customer was looking for. The customer was highly respected and it was obvious.
While helping customers find the clothes that they wanted, I quickly learned the value of this respect. One man was having trouble picking between two pairs of jeans, in the pants section of the store. I walked up to him and asked him if he needed any help; he looked very distressed. “These jeans are one size too big, and these jeans are perfect, but I hate the color,” he said. “I need new pants, though. I’ll just take the ones that are the right size.”
At first I was going to leave him to that decision. The jeans were fine, because they would fit. But I remembered the word that I had been talking about with my team members, the other people working at the clothing program and my community partner leaders. I realized that it was not just an idea, but a constant way of acting. I decided to put what I had been hearing into action, and be as respectful toward this customer as I could. “No need,” I said. “I can always go check in the back to see if we have any better options.”
I walked into the back of the building and it only took me a few minutes to find several pairs of jeans in his size. I put them on hangers and carried them back out to the man. When I held up the options I had found, his eyes widened in surprise. “You found all those for me?” I nodded to him. “Those,” he said as he pointed to one pair and grinned at me.
At the Free Clothing Program, I have learned that it doesn’t take much extra work to show someone that you respect them and their wishes. I believe that this is why St. Anthony’s is so successful in delivering services to the community. They know that it is worth that extra step to include respect in every action, and that achieving a goal, or making a difference is only worth it if you arrive there the right way: with respect and dignity in everything that you do.