Last week, a few days before Thanksgiving, I had lunch with a happy-go-lucky group of Racine citizens. They all seemed to know each other, but they welcomed me immensely, making me feel like “one of the family.”

I was aware that this group, or at least a variation of it, met four days a week to break bread, play a card game or two, and encourage each other, and I wanted to see what all the hubbub was all about.

To spark conversation, I asked the group a question fitting for the holidays: What were they thankful for? Everyone was quick to answer without a second thought.

“I’m so thankful just to be alive! We live in a beautiful city with great political leaders who care about us. Every day is a blessing!”

“I’m grateful I get to volunteer and give back to the community that gives so much to me. And I just love checking out books at our library!”

“I’m glad we have the police force here in Racine that keep us safe and always looks out for our best interests.”

“I’m grateful for local churches and sanctuaries where I can pray and find peace. I’m thankful for the religious leaders who put others first, and for God and His love!”

The answers kept coming, and my heart started melting.

“Every second is a blessing. I grew up in Cuba and always dreamed of living in America, and now I do. What a wonderful country to live and breathe in. We are so lucky!”

“After looking, searching, hoping, and praying, I finally found an apartment that keeps me warm. What a wonderful thing to have a room above my head at night!”

“The dogs I foster are my life, I’m so glad I have them. It’s awesome to be able to care for these pups, they became my family.”

“I’m grateful to meet new people every day. Racine has so many wonderful, caring people. There’s always someone new to meet! Like you!”

By the time I heard every answer, my knees were weak and my eyes were swelled. My lunch table was not comprised of the everyday business owners and politicians I bump shoulders with at the Red Onion. No, this lunch was different, consisting of our homeless and/or jobless, enjoying a warm lunch at the Hospitality Center on Main Street. And me.

I work next to the center at a marketing agency, and I always see people milling in and out around lunchtime, but have never trekked into the building myself. For the Thanksgiving season, I thought I would check it out and encourage a few people. It didn’t happen the way I anticipated; instead, they encouraged me.

The answers I heard blew me away. Everyone had at least something to say, most of which starting with “well, first off, I’m so lucky just to be alive.” Hearing citizens from my own city giving thanks for such a basic premise as living created a shift in my heart.

It’s a strange phenomenon, isn’t it? Those with less tend to be more grateful for what they have. The folks at the Hospitality Center hold tightly to their blessings, be it a warm meal four days a week, winning a card game, or simply making it another day.

I left the lunch a different woman. I want, in my heated condo, to fall asleep each night half as thankful as the people at the Hospitality Center. I want to mold my thinking, understanding just how much I truly have.

Although many of the homeless people in Racine may have nothing to their name, you’d be surprised at just how rich they really are. How rich are you, bank account aside?

To donate to the Hospitality Center, visit hospitality-center.org.

Paige Weslaski, born and raised in Racine, is a Pepperdine University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in leadership. Paige, 25, has lived in New York, Los Angeles, Europe and Central America, and is now working as an account executive of a marketing company in Downtown Racine.

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