Volunteers are a tremendous resource for St. Stephen's, particularly at our emergency shelters, where volunteers serve the evening meal 15-20 nights each month, and contribute to a dignified and hospitable environment for our guests. Meet three of those volunteers who power our shelters: Kristen, Susana, and Joe!
|Kristen Olsen||Susana di Palma||Joe Dill|
What made you interested in volunteering with St. Stephen's?
Kristen: The Hiawatha Avenue camp near my neighborhood made the problem of homelessness hard to ignore. I'd long donated to St. Stephens so I was familiar with the good work it does. When I decided I needed to do more, it was the logical place to start.
Susana: About two years ago I became haunted by hardboard signs held by pleading men and women on 26th Street on my way to work. I started to pay attention to who I was seeing under bridges, on the streets, highways, parks, metro lines and became curious about who these people are and how I could help them in some way.
I had attended St. Stephen’s Church years ago and remembered that they had begun a homeless shelter. I began volunteering at St Stephen’s Shelter at First Covenant Church about one and a half years ago. I try to do weekly Monday nights. It is often the highlight of my week!!! Meeting individuals who are going through such difficult times for whatever reasons and who have no comforts of home has been humbling.
Most of the men and women I have met have spirit, faith, humor and moving stories of what brought them to where they are.
I find the majority of our guests like to tell you their stories and it is an honor to listen. They love to laugh and I use my performing talent to tease and please when I can. Once when we served Chicken Alfredo I challenged each guest to tell me who Alfred was before being served. The replies were hilarious.
Joe: I grew up in Minnesota, not far from Minneapolis. However, it wasn't until I started attending school at the UofM and riding the light rail frequently that I had any exposure to the problem of homelessness in this city. I wanted to do something to help out. My father worked at an overnight men's shelter when he was in college, so that motivated me to see if I could do something similar. The evening shelter volunteer shift at St. Stephen's fit around my class schedule, so I decided to get involved. The tasks that we do as volunteers are a bit strenuous but knowing you are helping the staff is worth the effort
In the few shifts that I've served at St. Stephen's, I've seen how much the shelter guests appreciate receiving a fresh home-made meal rather than something reheated. Every winter, my church hosts a weekend retreat for college-aged students from churches around the midwest. So, this year I decided that we should take advantage of the extra person-power and prepare a home-made dinner for a few shelters around the Twin Cities.
What has it been like teaching and/or learning from other volunteers?
Kristen: It's inspiring when a new volunteer comes in with fresh energy and enthusiasm. We work together starting on the first shift, going over where things are kept, what needs to be done (making coffee, running the dishwasher, checking laundry), and how to wing it when the unexpected happens. Every hand on deck really makes a huge difference. It makes me hopeful for the future when someone new decides to get involved.
Susana: Some new volunteers have creative ideas on how to do things faster and want to DO MORE! It is fun for me to teach what I have learned.
Joe: Kristen and Susana were both terrific role models for me, not only in showing me how to do the various tasks that need to get done but in demonstrating love and hospitality. They knew many of the guests by name, knew how many plates to set aside for the guests arriving late from work, and were very friendly are kind to everyone. They both set a high bar for me.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Kristen: Giving time is meaningful in a different way from donating money or things. Shelter volunteers do tasks so that full-time staff have more time to work one-on-one with guests, helping them find a path to permanent housing. Serving as an evening shelter volunteer has been a great way to learn about homelessness and meet some unforgettable people.
Susana: My time at St. Stephens has changed my life for the better. I have a deeper love for others and appreciation for all I am blessed with. PLUS I HAVE SO MUCH FUN!!!
Joe: The staff at St. Stephen's are a great group. They're all very easy-going and friendly. They've always taken time to answer my questions and have been patient with me as I learn the ropes of the evening volunteer role. I've also enjoyed getting to know the shelter guests. I only know a few people's names right now, but I'll keep working on it. Their gratitude and cheerfulness, despite their current life circumstances, is always humbling for me.
Responses have been edited slightly for length and clarity.