[M]y daughters and I have been volunteering at Zion Church for 5 years now. They have a top-notch homeless and hungry outreach which feeds up to 200 people on the last Saturday of every month. We started out working in the kitchen, distributing hygiene bags and clothes or cleaning up. We soon discovered there seemed to be plenty of hands to help with those tasks but not many to sit and talk, or mostly listen to, those who find themselves in this vulnerable and humble place of needing help .We were drawn to strike up conversations with people who were willing to share a bit about their lives, their week, their struggles, their victories. We have formed some wonderful friendships there which led us to wanting more joy for ourselves. We wanted to see these friends more than once a month. They told us about Mary’s Kitchen.

It’s never easy, no matter how outgoing you think you are, to enter a room full of strangers. You hope there is one person who will reach out to you or at least talk if you try to engage them. My first day at Mary’s I recognized only one or two of my friends from Zion. One of them introduced me to Curtis and within a few short minutes, I felt like I had just been welcomed back to my hometown after being gone for years. Curtis has a way of lighting up a room, or an entire lot full of picnic tables, as is the case at Mary’s. He has a gift of connecting people, of sharing a small tidbit of information about one person while he’s introducing them to another, as if to subtly say, “You should get to know this person, you will like him.” He conducts his tours of Mary’s in this way. By the time he was finished showing me around, I had met ten more people whom he involved in giving me their perspective of the facilities, what was offered and what it meant to them.

Fast forward to a few weeks later when I found myself having dental issues. My mind went to Curtis, whom I had noticed was missing some teeth and seemed to struggle eating certain foods. I decided to ask my dentist, at my next appointment, if she would consider helping Curtis with an examination and possible dental work. She agreed to ask the owner of the dental practice. They said they would provide free x-rays, an examination, and then determine what they could do for him. I asked Curtis if he would like to see about possibly getting his teeth fixed. He wondered what my angle was. I told him about my own struggles when I had a temporary crown and that I thought of him and wanted him to be able to eat what he wanted. He was skeptical but agreed to go. I guess Curtis was my friend but I wasn’t his yet. I understood.

The dental office agreed to complete all the necessary dental work on the top! Curtis would be getting a new smile! I invited various friends along on our subsequent appointments, wanting to share the joy that is Curtis. They always asked if they could go to the next appointment with us. More joy. Two of them are now volunteering at Mary’s, something they had never considered before. Joy Squared.

Curtis has always had a great smile but it’s unbelievable now. He goes out of his way to make sure people notice what’s different about him. He is proud of the way he looks. He was trying to express his appreciation to me for my small part in helping to make this happen and after several attempts to articulate his feelings, his best friend interrupted him. He said, “What he’s trying to say is, you gave him hope.”

Curtis and I have been brainstorming ideas to complete his dental work. He still needs several teeth extracted on the bottom and a full set of bottom dentures. Because of his advanced periodontal disease, it is also a health risk to neglect completing this project. Dr. Dang and Dr. Momtaz at Yorba Linda Dental Group made an investment of their time and resources to give a man hope. I believe they received, in exchange, joy.

Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things. Only small things with great love.” I can’t wait to see how the rest of this story unfolds and to see the ripple effect of love and generosity among us.