Mary Faith Linder, a junior from the University of Georgia, shares her experience on the first day of service in Greece!

Going into our first day of service in Athens, I had no expectations as to what we would be doing. I knew we were to be working with the local Salvation Army, doing any work they deemed necessary at the moment. To get there, we had our very first Greek Metro experience, sticking out like a sore thumb the whole way there. Once we arrived to the site, we were briefed on the work we would be performing for the day by the manager of the site, Maria. She explained to us that we would be clearing out and cleaning up the inside of a building the Salvation Army was to acquire right across the street. Not too long ago, the home was a squatting area for hundreds of people and families, doubling as a center for trafficking. Because of the countless immigrants Greece acquires yearly, housing is scarce, which led to the overpopulation of this particular building. We all pulled on our gloves and attached our surgical masks as we walked into the house for the first time. The building tile work and the massive rooms were breathtaking, but the remnants of the families that had resided here remained. Unfinished drawings by children adorned the walls, CDs covered the floor, and piles of dirt and dust accumulated in piles throughout. There was an eerie sense of the sadness for those who had lived there that stuck with all of us as we walked through the rooms. We worked all morning clearing out rugs and all the belongings that were forgotten by those who quickly had to escape a few years ago. Although the work was physically demanding and everyone’s allergies were acting up, I not once heard someone complain. There was an unspoken understanding between everyone that we had nothing to complain about. We may have been cleaning up the mess that had ensued, but they had to live in it.

Once we finished up cleaning, we took a good look at what we had accomplished. Between the 21 of us, we made an incredible difference on the cleaning process in just those few short hours we were there. Maria and the rest of the Salvation Army were very grateful. Even throughout, we had neighbors walking up to us in pure joy asking us about what we were doing. People would see us working and then walk into the Salvation Army for clothes, seeing the good work it does for the community. It was pretty obvious that our few hours of work made a great impact.

Gabriella, a 21 year old university student in Athens, joined us in our work earlier that morning. At the end of the day, we all sat down, and she told us about herself. She lives her life to volunteer. She is constantly volunteering for various organizations, just because of the pure joy it brings her. Seeing as most of us on this trip are around her age, her story and her generosity made a huge impact on us. Although we made progress today, the work we did was minuscule in comparison to the huge challenges they face ahead. We were some of the first volunteers to work on the site, and being a part of that gives me a sense of pride. I know in the future I will be able to look back at the house and be able to proudly say that i made a difference. The Salvation Army in Athens is working will all odds against them trying to turn their community around. Having met the people working there today, there is no doubt in my mind that they will leap over all their hurdles and prove everyone else wrong. Athens is an incredible city, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to contribute a little bit to the growth and development of the city.