To say “it’s been a tough week” would be an understatement. Our nation has mourned the lives of many of our black brothers and sisters that have been taken from this world far too soon, far too long after a change protecting their lives should have come. While a bill is in progress to create change (click here for the Justice In Policing Act of 2020), racism is something that truly starts-and can end-at home. In our own home, I’ve spent this week documenting local protests, educating myself by watching movies like Selma (yup, I cried through 90% of the film), reaching out to local organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Boston chapter & @BlackOwnedBos on Instagram to learn how I can help uplift those that need it the very most right now, and reading my Bible. In doing so as a Christian woman, one message has kept repeating over and over to me all week : John 15:17. “This is my commandment: Love each other.” This week specifically, I wanted to hunt down an organization that celebrates this message, as the world cannot change until we look at ourselves individually and choose to change for the better. It was perfectly fitting that this week, I spoke with Mabel Valenzuela of House of Mercy in Lawrence: a woman who changed her life completely, dedicating it to uplifting the lives of others.
Looking on the House of Mercy website in doing research for today’s interview, I was nearly speechless at the amount of services they offered. From offering daily breakfast & lunch to clothing, a place to shower, health care and spiritual services, there is no basic need that goes ignored for those most desperate for it. When asked how the events of recent weeks from the pandemic to those on the front lines protesting in support of #BlackLivesMatter, Valenzuela had a positive response. “Because (our members) feel all equally treated, it’s not a subject that has come up to us. We don’t look at the race, and we try for them not to look at us as a race, as far as a human being: that’s what we are!” she explains. Yet the responsibility is on more than just saying all lives are equal: it is the action you take in your homes, in your hearts, and in the way you treat others in public. “You should have that respect all the time. It’s the message that needs to be sent for everyone, especially for the youth, is that everyone is equal and that we should not look at each person based on that skin color. Because that doesn’t define a human being.” This state of mind by all who enter House of Mercy has created a contagiously positive environment, Valenzuela says, that has made it so “you can’t tell the difference between who’s here for help and who is a volunteer.” That is the way, she says, that it’s supposed to be.
While the Coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on their services in term of limiting numbers of showers, creating a more socially distant way of serving their meals (currently, they are offering 500 meals a day on top of offering a food pantry) and has impacted their daily functionality, the need has remained the same. The most important need at this time, she says, is having someone to listen and guide those in the greatest need of direction or maybe just someone to talk to that can guide members on their path to improving their quality of life. “You become like a mother; it’s like seeing a kid growing,” she explains of the rewarding and unique experience available to those that come in to help others. “One of the couples, when they first came in, I was like, ‘Oh my God, they were about to die!’. They were extremely skinny and extremely damaged, and we took the time we sat with them and said, ‘What do you guys need to be able to come out of the streets?’ And they talked about their experiences in life.” This simple action was the first step in helping this couple to where they are today, living an entirely different life. “We helped them through finding a job, we sent them to a rehab. Now they have an apartment, they are working, they are stable. And just seeing those changes is very rewarding.”
To see my full interview with Mabel, watch the video below. To donate to House of Mercy, or if you would like to sign up to be someone to listen, visit their website at https://www.houseofmercylawrence.com/.