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Name:                 T.J. Piccolo
YAV Year:            Northern Ireland 2012-2013, Nashville 2013-2014
Where he is Now: Port Huron, MI

T.J. RITI

WHAT BROKE YOUR HEART?
During my time in Nashville, I volunteered at Room In The Inn, a faith-based nonprofit that provided services and emergency winter shelter for the local homeless population. On a particularly cold day, a participant was talking to a staff member while in line to receive emergency shelter. The participant was extremely intoxicated. I’m still amazed he was able to walk and talk, or in his case, stumble and incoherently mumble. I had never seen someone so pale in my entire life. Mucous and tears had leaked all over his face. His eyes were bloodshot. He seemed vacant and numb. It was his survival mode so he wouldn’t feel the freezing weather as he braved the streets. I overheard the staff member saying he had seen this participant in that state several days in a row before that. Basically, it was the first time I would see someone drinking themselves to death to stay alive. Luckily, throughout the year, I saw that participant build healthy community and make some really positive changes in his life, which was really incredible to witness.
WHAT’S ONE OF YOUR MOST VIVID MEMORIES FROM YOUR YEAR?
One of the first participants I became friends with at Room In The Inn was really making progress in turning his life around. Still, every day was a battle, and despite his friendly nature, he would often come in looking fatigued and frustrated. He was waiting for housing. In order to not let the stress get the best of him, we would intentionally talk about harmonicas and bicycles, which would lift his spirits from his heavy demeanor.
He finally received housing in one of Room In The Inn’s upstairs apartments. One day he called down to me from the balcony. “T.J.!” He was laughing and waving his hands in the air, whooping and cheering. The wind was blowing through his hair. He was well-rested, happy, clean, and his demeanor was much lighter. His true colors were showing. I know it sounds like a ridiculous movie or something, but it really gave me a lot of hope. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier for someone.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT YOUR YAV YEAR?
Being in community with underrepresented groups of people on a consistent basis. Also, owning an inflatable whale. Named Tinkerbell.
WHAT MADE YOU LAUGH DURING YOUR YAV YEAR?
Tuffy: The Magical Sheep of Donegal!
Tuffy The Magical Sheep of Donegal
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