As we look further ahead into 2017, we want to give thanks for one of the often-hidden aspects of our work: Human contact.

Much of our work here at MPower Oregon is both highly technical and—seemingly— impersonal: Researching the relative efficiencies of building materials, budgeting the efficient use of funds for sustainability upgrades, and conducting site visits to verify that improvements have been made properly and safely.

Theoretically, this last category is an opportunity to engage directly with some of the major beneficiaries of our work: The tenants of the affordable housing units we help plan and upgrade.

But in truth, these conversations are often difficult ones. As MPower’s Webly Bowles puts it: “Sometimes you feel really bad going into someone’s apartment; it feels invasive. What’s more, people in affordable housing are often in difficult places in their lives, and want to keep their privacy.” So as a rule, she maintains a respectful distance from tenants.

 Recently, while on a visit to inspect a NOAH-financed property in southern Oregon, Webly was confronted by such a situation: The tenant of one unit was new to affordable housing, having lost both his housing and his wife, who had recently passed away. He was left to raise their four children alone.

Webly was determined to make the visit as quick and un-invasive as humanly possible while still meeting the necessary requirements of the inspection, so what happened next took her by surprise. Disregarding her obvious desire to make the site inspection unobtrusive, the man insisted on speaking with her directly. “Thank you so much!” he said. Webly, taken aback, replied “Um…we should be thanking YOU for letting us come in your apartment!”

“No, I mean it,” he continued. “Thank you for the home. It’s really hard to get affordable housing in small towns; I know it takes a lot of people working together. We’re really grateful!”

The fact of the matter is that people often land in affordable housing at low points in their lives, through unexpected loss, accident or bad fortune. It can happen to anyone in a figurative second. For these and other reasons, we do our best to respect people’s privacy when we visit their apartments, and we certainly don’t want or expect to be thanked for our work.

But at the same time, we won’t lie: Moments like these are really powerful. They underscore a fundamental fact that got us into this work in the first place: behind the spreadsheets, the budgets and the projections, there are individuals—many of them in great need—who are the real beneficiaries of this work. And for that reminder of why we are here doing the work along with so many other dedicated allies and partners, we are truly grateful.