by Wyatt Massey
The song of blessing Curtis sings before each meal has a special meaning in his own journey from the streets to loving himself. Each morning at the Gathering, before the doors open to meal guests and the room is filled with laughs and conversation, a volunteer is asked to give an opening prayer.
If you are lucky, Curtis will raise his hand and volunteer. He will stand up and, with a voice fueled by faith, sing The Lord Has Made a Place For Me. The song blesses the meal, the volunteers and each guest. Beyond that though, Curtis knows the song has special meaning to his own story.
“When I sing that song,” he says, gesturing to the kitchen and dining area of the Gathering, “This is what I’m talking about. Right here.”
Curtis first came to the Gathering in 1993. He was living on the street, alongside his brother. At the time, the meal program offered a warm place to stay and a meal without questions. It was a consistent refuge compared to life on the street. A time of his life Curtis called “awful,” noting the uncertainty of each night.
“You didn’t know where you were going to lay down,” Curtis said. “Wondering where you were going to go, where you were going to be.”
Curtis lived on the street, on and off, for six years. The longest he stayed without shelter was a year and a half. Despite having a consistent paycheck, a drug habit kept him without decent savings. More than that, Curtis said it was a lack of self-respect that kept him on the streets.
“I didn’t care about myself, but I’m changed now. I’ve got a better understanding of me and I’ve started loving myself again.”
Part of that change included volunteering. After his first meal at the Gathering, Curtis approached Josephine, the program coordinator, and asked if he could volunteer. She told him he could start immediately.
Volunteering also helped Curtis find housing. One morning five years ago, a woman approached Curtis to ask if he needed an apartment. When he told her that he did, she helped him find a place to stay. Curtis said that it was his consistent presence and positive attitude about helping others that showed the woman he was committed to getting better.
That commitment continues today.
Each morning, Curtis washes pots and pans, as well as any other task. Years of service have given him an eye for seeing work that needs to be done. The words of thanks by guests as they leave remind him that “God is here” and that the Lord has provided him with a special place. He encourages others to do their best and trust that they too will find a place where they can thrive.
“If you let your light shine, he’ll find a place for you.”