An 18 year old's perspective...

Please take a moment and read this amazing account from one of our dedicated volunteers. Keely is an amazing woman, and we are proud to have her on our team.

My name is Keely Matsusaki and I am an average eighteen-year-old university student. On a typical day, I wake up in my bed, eat breakfast, drink some coffee, maybe even work out if I’m feeling it. These are some pretty normal things I’m sure a lot of people do every single morning. Now take a second and think about your normal day. I’m pretty sure you wake up in your warm home, in your nice bed. This may seem like something that’s far from atypical, but it may be surprising to you that this necessity is an element that we all take for granted. That feeling of being comforted, comfortable, and above all, safe.

When I got home from university I felt pretty useless. Everything was closed, all of my summer jobs and opportunities no longer existed. So as I’m sure a lot of people did during this pandemic I decided to start running. It was during this new hobby I came across an older gentlemen walking downtown. He was friendly, smiley but when he saw me he couldn’t hold back his emotions. The tears flowed steadily as he explained that all his money went to paying his rent, he lost his job because of COVID. He didn’t even have money for toilet paper, a very well sought over product back in April. It was awful to see someone so devastated over what their life had become in just a matter of a week and here I was feeling down because I had to sit at home.

It was through this encounter that my Mom, Sister, and I became a part of Reach Out Chatham-Kent Missions or ROCK. ROCK is a not-for-profit organization that is approaching its first anniversary. When we started volunteering with ROCK we made around 150 lunches twice a week. A sandwich along with a variety of snacks. Now ROCK delivers over 300 lunches twice a week to Chatham’s most vulnerable community members, that may sound like an amazing feat but remember for some people that is the only meal they will eat. I will refer to these community members as our friends as we do at ROCK.

As time went on I wanted to get more involved as I learned more about the type of work ROCK does. That is when I joined the outreach program. Going out into the community to deliver lunches and necessities such as hygiene products, clothing, and harm reduction. However, I personally believe ROCK’s greatest contribution is the unconditional support and companionship given to all members of our community.

The most eye-catching word is probably harm reduction. A fair majority of the people who benefit most from ROCK are individuals who use substances, and I am aware of how easy it may be to just assume they don’t matter or you may question ROCK in why they choose to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. Trust me I was once there as well but it is easy to assume things you have no idea about and while it may be easy to assume the worst in people through the unspoken lessons I have gathered at ROCK it is important to show support not judgment.

It is a sad reality to hear that some of our friends use drugs as gateways from their trauma and past. Some of our friends are veterans extremely affected by PTSD, some of our friends live out of backpacks and sofa surf from one house to the next or spend the night on the street, and some of our friends are not much older than me but were on the opposite end of the scale living in foster care until they aged out of the system. Drugs became the easiest solution for all the mental and physical pain they endured. It is important to state that not all people end up on the street or in unsustainable housing because they use drugs. Many are victims of mental illness or have had unfortunate circumstances in life which has led to drug abuse. Mental Illness takes control of more lives than just the ones on the street, some people are just lucky to have support and love to help them through it. That is what ROCK does, shows support and kindness to those who would not otherwise receive it.

This amazing work would be non-existent if it weren’t for the amazing core group of volunteers who have made an enormous difference in our friend’s lives and my own. On my first day of outreach I watched a man walk into a drug house and return ten minutes later with no shoes. When I asked him where his shoes went he responded with “someone needed them more”. This amazing man then continued to work all day with size six flip flops on, less than half his shoe size. It was after that moment of such selflessness I knew this work was for me, and I had a long way to go to becoming as sincere as this unique group of volunteers.

This article isn’t for me or about me. I wanted to write this to show my love for the people who are all a part of the amazing work ROCK does and bring awareness to the daily struggles that are becoming more common in our small community. If you have taken anything from this short display please do not judge or condemn someone to their present actions. It is important to reduce the stigma associated with people who are less fortunate. This summer has been everything but expected. But through this unprecedented time in our history I have learned lessons in life that you really can’t find in any book or seminar. The importance of being kind and showing acceptance can give someone a chance for a life many of us take for granted. It is always possible to make a difference in someone's life, through kindness and empathy you can change the life of someone you barely even know. At ROCK we believe everyone matters. ROCK is celebrating its one year anniversary this Saturday August 22. Please join us in the celebrations at the Bowlerama for a BBQ and find out more about how you can make a difference.

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