by April Campbell
A couple of months ago, I went to my mailbox and found a small package. I opened it and inside was “The Starfish Story” (sometimes called The Star Thrower) and a bracelet that read “It made a difference to that one”. For those who may not know, the story is goes:
“One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked, he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, ‘I’m saving these starfish, Sir.’
The old man chuckled aloud, ‘Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?’
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “It made a difference to that one!’”
The package was sent by my mom who lives over 800 miles away. She knows that the work we do is hard. We work with guests who are marginalized and oppressed and face barriers everywhere they turn. We do our best to meet as many needs as possible, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. Sometimes I wonder if I really make a difference in the lives of the guest we serve. It can feel like an uphill battle with constant questions: “Did I listen enough?” “Was I patient enough?”, “Did I ask all the right questions to ensure the guest received everything they needed?”, “Could I have done more?” I leave every day with these thoughts, playing back my interactions with guests over and over again, and thinking how I could have said something differently or done something more.
Then there comes a day when I get a card in the mail that says how well a former guest is doing and thanks me for the time I spent with him or a voicemail from a guest who wants to tell me that he finally got his ID and thanks me for going through the process with him. That’s when I realize that as long as our guests and their needs are my number one priority, I am making a difference.
What my mom did not realize was that I had previously shared The Starfish Story at one of our team meetings because it stuck with me. It was important to me to share it because I know that I am not the only one who leaves work some days and wonders if I really made a difference in a guest’s life. I truly believe that the work we do here is important and changes lives and although we are not a shelter or a long term program, and we may not see the impact our services have on our guests, I trust that our work is planting the seeds for something greater and planting seeds hope and empowerment within our guests.