BY KAROL SVOBODA
The Tenderloin holds incredible beauty within it. It is a neighborhood of diversity in people, language, food, dress, and lifestyle. Yet, the overwhelming scene people see the most, are those people without homes living on the sidewalks, drugs being sold and used, and a lot of physical and psychological needs. Unless you intentionally look beyond the most pressing needs, you will not see the beauty our neighborhood holds within its 30 square blocks and over 30,000 people.
A vibrant, yet often unseen part of the Tenderloin for nonresidents, are the children and families. These families lend to the rich culturally diverse beauty of the Tenderloin with roots in Mexico, South, and Central America, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and more. Being able to call many of the women and children friends, has made my life so much richer. The dignity, courage, and generosity that the women carry with them in some of the most challenging circumstances deeply inspire me. They live in the midst of the unresolved challenges our neighborhood brings, raising their children and working hard at the foundation of their family values and safety. Living life together in the Tenderloin enables me to see and understand my neighbors at a much deeper level. We share the unique experience of the Tenderloin together. The most common meeting places are on the streets, at the park or the farmer’s market, a grocery store or a community event/party.
A short while ago, as I was walking home, I heard my name being called out from across the street. I turned and saw a woman who I care for very much. I know that she is facing some very painful circumstances as she has shared openly with me. She said, “I am so glad I saw you.” She then went on to share some of what was going on in her life and expressed her need for prayer. We grasped hands, hugged and I assured her of prayer. Some of the most meaningful relationship-building times are in the unexpected meetups of everyday life.
As I take the time to build relationships, by slowing down to listen, checking in on people, seeing life from their perspective, being available to hear their hearts and offer prayer, time and help in whatever way I can, I learn to love deeper, laugh more and be enriched. Although on the outside we look different, our hearts all long for the same thing - to love and be loved in friendship and trust. I am grateful for the 12 years we have had in this very unique neighborhood with all of its problems and potential.