Mike was not in the mood to finish his shift at the shelter, but he knew he had to for the sake of the kids who needed the shelter's services. Today there seemed to be twice the usual number. Undoubtedly because a sudden, intense rainstorm had hit the city.
He looked at the teens crowding the admittance area, sighing when he realized he'd have to turn many of them away. Even with the shelter's policy of letting kids crash in the recreation room when the weather was really bad, there was still only so much space available and most of it had been taken already.
The front of the counter was lined with kids, all vying for his attention. He was about to get what information he needed from one of the youngest ones, who looked as if he couldn't be more than fourteen, when he sensed someone had joined him behind the counter.
"Looks like you could use a hand," the man said when Mike turned to see who was there.
"No kidding," Mike replied. He eyed the man momentarily, struck by his startling red hair which hung well below his shoulder blades despite being tied back.
"What do you want me to do? By the way, I'm Paddy, a new volunteer."
Mike tore off a few sheets from the admittance form pad, handing them to him. "Take the next kid, get as much information as you can from him, and then send him into the rec room." Mike pointed to the double doors leading to it. "Don't argue if all he gives you is his street name. We have space for maybe ten to fifteen more kids at this point."
Some of the teens heard what Mike said and the word quickly passed among the group. Dejectedly, those nearest the exit began to leave while the rest of them pressed closer to the counter, obviously hoping to make the cut. Twelve did before one of the shelter workers came out to let Mike know they'd reached the absolute limit. There was a collective sigh of dismay from the remaining teens before they left.
"Now what?" Paddy asked when Nick went around the counter to lock the front door.
"Now we wish the shelter was twice as big," Mike said glumly. "But it's not. If you want to come with me I'll show you the ins and outs of serving supper." When Paddy nodded, Mike led the way to the dining room. There was a long serving counter along one wall, being manned by staff and volunteers who were dishing food into sectioned trays. It seemed as if they'd hardly filled one before it was grabbed up by one of the teens. The benches at the tables were packed and those who couldn't find a seat stood along the walls as they scarfed down their meals.
For the next half hour Mike and the others did their jobs until the last teen had something to eat. Occasionally Mike glanced at the newest volunteer. Paddy seemed to get the hang of things very quickly, which was great as far as Mike was concerned. Tonight was not the time to be having to train someone who was there just to play do-gooder.
As soon as everyone finished eating, a group of teens began cleaning up. When Paddy asked, Mike explained that they were part of the Thirty-Day program, meaning they had a guaranteed place to stay for that length of time as long as they pitched in to do chores and met with counselors who would try to help them get into school again or find a job. "First and foremost though, they have to stop selling themselves, or drugs, or they'll be kicked out of the program."
"How many actually want to do that so they can get off the streets?" Paddy asked.
"You might be surprised. I mean come on, if you were living rough wouldn't you want to change your life if you could?"
"Of course." Paddy leaned against the serving counter, watching the teens. "How many succeed?"
Mike smiled proudly. "Our success rate for those who join is eight out of ten, which isn't bad."
"Hell, that sounds pretty damned good to me." Paddy studied Mike for a moment. "How did you get involved with this?"
"I'm one of their successes. When I got out of the program I had a job, nothing fancy but… Anyway, I started volunteering here when I had the time and about a year ago they offered me a job." Mike eyed him then asked, "Why are you here?"
"To help out." Paddy chuckled. "I'm actually not official yet. I've been meaning to volunteer but never got around to stopping in to see if this place needed me until today. I walked in, saw that you looked like you were on your last nerve and figured I'd offer my services with—what do you call it? Admissions?"
"Yeah, and thanks." Mike sighed. "I was about at the end of my rope. I knew I had to handle the counter on my own so everyone else could deal with the kids we did let in. You showing up probably saved me from either going ballistic, or breaking down and crying because I felt guilty about sending kids away on a night like this."
"I'm glad I got here when I did, then. Now…who do I talk to about doing this on a regular basis?"
"Mr. Jones. He's the head of Crossroads House." Mike looked around. "I don't see him so either he's in his office or he's gone home."
"Going home is allowed?" Paddy asked with a grin.
Mike chuckled. "For those of us who aren't on night duty it is. Come on, let's see if he's still here."