#PROJECTGIVEBACK’S SHINE AND DINE – CONNECTING WITH STRANGERS

“This is going to look great on my resume, but what the hell was I thinking agreeing to this,” had to have been repeated 58 times prior to attending the two events I had agreed to speak at.

Being a Communication scholar, one that attained a degree in two different languages, I was required to be comfortable with public speaking in order to graduate. That wasn’t what was making my hands drip at the thought of it. It was the topics which I would be discoursing that churned my insides.  

Are they going to hear me? Are they going to get me?

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I assisted in the production of a women’s empowerment event organized by my friends Skarlly and Jasmine of #ProjectGiveBack - an organization dedicated to giving back to the community with the help of the community itself. After a conversation about the importance of expression as a means to shed traumas and fear, Skarlly shared the idea of catering an event where she could join together with strangers to do just that. What resulted was the conception of Shine and Dine.

Thanks to the team’s supporters for raising over $700, Apt 78 for donating the delicious buffet, and the friends and advocates of #ProjectGiveBack for their help, (Skarlly, Jasmine, Michelle and Steph…you guys are amazing) we were able to provide the ladies of The Dwelling Place an evening that we all won’t forget.

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I remember walking into the room and thinking it felt warm and even cozy. As Americans, we’ve been conditioned to have a skewed idea of what a homeless shelter would be, but The Dwelling Place was neither of the assumptions I had drawn up in my mind. The dining room, well lit, furnished and clothed, seated thirteen women between the ages of 40 and 70. Not only had we never met these women, but they were much older than the ladies of #ProjectGiveBack (the oldest being me, 26) and we were preparing to attempt to “empower” them. At any given point in their lives, these women had been battered, hungry and alone - what business did we, a group of privileged college grads, have “empowering” them?

“Melanie is going to speak first.” After a mental curse word or two, I sat in front of sixteen women, took a deep breath and spoke. I had no idea how to start, so I began with whatever came to mind. First? My blog and I. Who I am, what I do, how long I’ve been at it…but it wasn’t until I got to why I do what I do that it hit me.

THIS is why I do this. THIS is what I needed. THIS is what they needed.

They were quiet, but the more I revealed, the softer their expressions got. I told them I was terrified because I was going to be speaking at my first panel the next day about my battle with anxiety and depression. I wasn’t able to get through the end of the word depression when one of the ladies raised her fist in accord. She got me. The eldest woman of the group got me. 

The gesture gave me the boost I needed to wrap it up fittingly: I told them how lucky we were. I looked at every confused gazed and explained. I told them how lucky we were as women to have each other. I told them how fortunate they were to have The Dwelling Place give them the opportunity to not only build themselves up comfortably, but also surround them with sisters. I introduced the idea that regardless of our life’s paths, sometimes our problems are parallel, connecting us. If the proof wasn’t alive that evening, why would an elderly homeless woman make a gesture in connection with a 26 year-old writer? The proof was more than alive. It was brimming and continued to shine through the night.

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Skarlly wrapped up the event by pouring herself out to the women of The Dwelling Place - her first time ever speaking to an audience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as she spread her experiences and thoughts out in the most beautifully candid way. Not only was I flushed with pride for  having watched my friend organize the event and gather the courage to open up to a group of strangers, but I was greatly honored to be considered one of her inspirations.

Shine and Dine, which ended in happy tears, hugs and promises to return, was validation of my constant mission to shed light on the human experience.

This is an ode to relativity, because as much as we may feel like we’re alone in a world of 7 billion people, we’re in this together.

That evening, filled with positivity, affirmation cards, warm food and warmer hugs, was a speck in the fight against the extinction of human connection. Yes, Shine and Dine was dripping with girl power, but more so it was a testament to our inevitable relation as humans regardless of gender, age, race and in this case, socioeconomic status. Our experiences, fears and insecurities bound us together and allowed for us all to be heroines that evening. Not only were the women of The Dwelling Place gratefully inspired by our efforts, but we learned so much from their lively spirits and faith in the future.

Speak. Connect. Relate. Change a life.