Cecilia Arbuckle’s day of volunteering at Room In The Inn starts with hair. When participants sign up to get haircuts each Tuesday, she’s there to sweep up the locks and curls that drift to the floor and welcome the next participant into the barber chair.
A couple of hours later, she’s back as a personal shopper in the **What’s Inn Store, helping participants pick out clothes and shoes they’re proud to wear. She finishes her day helping with our Winter Shelter program, ushering participants out to their warm destinations for the night.
Every act is an opportunity to show hospitality and compassion to the homeless community. The woman relieved to have a new change of clothes after everything she had was stolen. The man who is interview-ready with a fresh haircut. Cecilia says she witnesses tiny moments of joy every day. And Cecilia has served many days—all the way back to Room In The Inn’s beginning.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I was an educator for 43 years. Thirty plus years at Metro schools. Ten years at a college, and I was a principal, assistant principal, and teacher in Metro. Cherry Baxter, Pearl Cohn, Maplewood, Dupont Hadley, Donelson Head, and probably some others if I could think for a while. I did special education and math primarily.
How long have you been involved with Room In The Inn?
We grew up knowing Charlie Strobel at Holy Name. His mom and my mom would have the Saturday night after-church dinner, and I was the driver. At that age it was easier for me to drive them.
My mother made us go down and fix peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Charlie at Holy Name. So, at the beginning. But only the last two years [at Room In The Inn’s campus] after I retired.
When I retired, I told Charlie I would come work.
Why serve with Room In The Inn?
We grew up having nothing as far as the family goes. But then, we realized, or I think my mother and father instilled in us, that there were others who had a lot less than we did, and we needed to help. So, I think that was kind of the motivator.
In what ways have you served at Room In The Inn?
The haircuts, the winter shelter, and the [What’s Inn] Store.
Why do you choose to serve in this way?
I think because it brings a lot of joy to the men and women here.
I think the haircuts are one of the most positive things they can have because they see the transformation in themselves.
I was taking pictures of them at one time—before and after shots if they wanted them—and giving them a picture of themselves so they could send it to their family or whatever. So, I would have it the next week for them to pick up.
It’s a real joy to see that they’re so happy with little things.
They get so excited about finding a pair of shoes or pair of blue jeans or something that fits them. And if it has a tag on it that’s never been worn, that’s the thrill. They love that. They get hand-me-downs a lot. But to be able to get something that’s really new is very special.
They want to be neat. They want to look nice. They want things to match. They’re just like us and we don’t think of that.
They get choices. That’s a good thing.
Being able to just vocalize something and have it come to fruition that they don’t think is going to happen is really neat. Things like, ‘I want to go out with this person at Winter Shelter,’ and they get that choice.
What does serving the homeless community mean to you?
I think providing opportunities so that people don’t suffer. I think that’s the biggest thing. The reason they’re the way they are is because of no fault to themselves, generally. It’s just they haven’t had the opportunities we’ve had
It provides some self-esteem that they don’t have all the time.
I do get mad and upset if we can’t provide more...as a community and as individuals.
I think we [are born with hospitality] already. I think we learn to be selfish. I think it’s the opposite. Because if you just spend your whole time doing I want, I need, for me, that type of thing, that’s what develops in a person.
What impact do you feel you make in this community?
I think it provides another [link] of a chain that moves people positively to a goal that they may have or may not have. A step or two to move forward.
If you smile at them and are positive and greet them, they just change their whole persona. They can be gruff and stuff, and I learned a long time ago in education, you can’t be gruff back to them. You know, you can solve problems by not raising your voice and by being kind. And I think so much of the time they don’t get that.
Is there a significant or unique story about your time at Room In The Inn you would like to share?
One lady told me last year, ‘You wouldn’t believe what we had for dinner last night. It was the best dinner I ever had.’ They gave them roast beef and mashed potatoes and green beans and rolls, and they could have as much as they wanted, and then they had all this dessert. And she was so excited that she had that experience.
It was really a special dinner for those people in the church that were fixing that dinner. I know it took extra effort for them. And for them to think, ‘Let’s try something that’s really nice for people.’
It really made my day that she was so happy.
What brings you joy?
Being with friends. Doing things I like to do. Cooking, reading, traveling, that type of thing. Giving to others, definitely.
Just about every day, I get something that I think, ‘Oh, that’s really neat.’
Today, for example, the guy matching up his clothes [in the What’s Inn Store] because he wanted everything to match. I thought, ‘Hey, you got it going there.’ He had some nice things that really matched, which was neat.
And then some of them will come in and they’ll buy for their friends, which that’s not selfishness at all. That’s sharing, too. You’d think they’d want everything for themselves.
I don’t think people realize how if we were on the street, if I were on the street, I’d be a very different person I am now. Because you have that survival mode, that there are certain things that you have to do in order to survive.
We don’t see necessarily why they’re doing it or think they’re in a stressful situation—they’re doing the best they can for right now. It’s better just to calm down and realize where they’re coming from.
What would you tell others who might want to get involved in this community?
I think that you will get more out of it than you provide. And that it doesn’t take a lot of time and you can pick and choose things that you would like to do. You don’t have to just feed people. You can do other things.
Room In The Inn needs people like you to make a difference in this community. Click here to learn how you can get involved or donate. What could your Power of One story be?
**The What’s Inn Store is a thrift store where participants can use the points they earn from attending classes to “purchase” new or gently used items, including clothes, shoes, bags, hygiene items, or other personal items. The What’s Inn Store is open to participants Tuesday-Thursday and offers them the respect of having choices in their belongings.