Maria’s Story

Oct 8, 2019

The first time I went in for my cancer treatment, everyone I saw at the clinic was so sad. I couldn’t help myself. I started to crack homeless jokes.

I got a few gasps of surprise; people started asking me how I could be joking and telling homeless jokes in the middle of a cancer treatment center.

“When I was homeless those were the jokes we told,” I said, “they’re the jokes I know. We gotta keep our motivation somehow if we’re so sick.”

That’s my philosophy in general: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and we can either give up and die or keep moving forward each day. Every day I see a client, my goal is for them to leave with a little bit of hope and a smile on their face.

I stumbled upon The Simple Way as a client myself. After living in Philly for various years and moving around year to year, I moved onto Potter St. One day I was in need of food and I called “The Hunger Hotline.” I was surprised to find that the address I got was on the same block I’d moved into. I stayed on the food line for several weeks before volunteering to help. Quickly, I learned just how much work goes behind the scenes in making it work. The food doesn’t just jump in the bag!

In 2011, after several months of volunteer work, I was offered a position at The Simple Way. It was a blessing. I felt I had arrived home and that I was being given the chance to do what I loved-help those in need!

That chance is what kept me going throughout my treatment. As soon as the doctor gave me the diagnosis, I told him I had to get over it quick, because my clients needed me. I’m pretty sure later the doctor said to the nurses later, “well, this one’s a nutjob!”

Maybe that’s right. Sometimes I think I have a compulsive disorder. I feel good when I get to make other people in my community feel good. All I thought about while I was sick was getting back to help my clients; that was what kept me motivated.

In March 2015, I was declared cancer-free, and I informed my clients about my health issues. They asked me “why you didn’t say anything to us so we could be there for you?”

I just replied that they are the ones in need, not me. Ensuring that they are okay is what makes me feel proud of the work I do. I get the opportunity to engage with my clients, get to hear their stories and be able to provide them with resources where they will be able to get assistance for their issues. It was what kept me going through my treatment.

At times all people want is a listening ear. We give people the chance to connect with each other in everything we do. When you have people outside your family who care about you, it gives you a different kind of motivation than when you have just your family.

I always want my neighbors to know, it doesn’t matter what you’re going through, hold your head up high. If you need food, it doesn’t make you less. If you need housing, it doesn’t make you less. I am grateful for the chance to make a difference in someone’s life and allowing me to bring a smile and a little bit of hope to my community.


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