Day 7: Daily Bread

Gathering at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality
Gathering at the Dorothy Day House

Gathering at the Dorothy Day House

For the final night of my Volunteer Odyssey week, I had a bit of pre-work to do. I would be headed to the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality for an evening gathering, and they had asked that I bring “a simple dessert.” Based on this single detail, I guessed that this night would be about more than doing volunteer work for a worthy organization. If people were making food for one another, it would be about fellowship.

When I left Atlanta and moved to rural Arkansas a little over seven years ago, I had no idea how important connecting with my new community would become. In a big city, a person could almost always find some activity to temporarily distract them from feelings of loneliness and isolation. In the Delta, such distractions were rarely found. As I looked for opportunities to build relationships in my new town, I quickly learned that connecting with others often involved food. After years of attending potluck suppers with my colleagues and neighbors, I began to count the breaking of bread with others as an act of communion.

Happy birthday, Adriana!

Happy birthday, Adriana!

When I arrived at the Dorothy Day House with my offering of mini-cupcakes, volunteer coordinator Genevieve Spears informed me that we would be celebrating a birthday for one of the residents. Other volunteers arrived shortly after I did. One couple brought a homemade chocolate layer cake, and a family of four showed up with all of the necessary ingredients for a serious Christmas cookie-decorating session. When the birthday girl, Adriana, and her family came in after a day out, we gathered in the living room of the house for a short prayer service.

After we prayed for the house and its occupants, each other, and our community, we adjourned to the dining room to enjoy the desserts spread out on the table. The children occupied themselves with decorating cookies while the adults looked on and took turns holding Adriana’s beautiful one month-old baby. Even as the staff and volunteers at the Dorothy Day House strive to keep families experiencing homelessness together, they also work to build a bigger family composed of all who come in contact with the organization. There seemed to be no agenda for this evening beyond fellowship with one another. Where some volunteer scenarios demand months of planning and funding and recruitment, others call for simple acts of human connection. I felt gratified to end my week on such an intimate note.

Find out more about volunteer opportunities at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality at www.dorothydaymemphis.org/volunteer.

Day Seven: The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Today was the last day of the whirlwind that is my Volunteer Odyssey. My final stop for the week was at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. Every week the shelter hosts “Sundays at Six”, where volunteers and families living in the facility meet for an hour of fellowship, plus dessert. I ate two.

Around 6pm the families made their way to the living room for prayer before we cut into the brownies. As we waited for the children to file down in their pajamas, I looked at the photographs hanging on the wall in the dining room. These families came in all shapes and sizes, with the common denominator of having called the Dorothy Day House home at one point in time. There were over 30 photographs hanging on the wall.

Families of the past surround the dining room table,

Families of the past surround the dining room table,

The mission of the Dorothy Day House is to keep homeless families together. Families that remain together have a much better chance of rebuilding their lives after the distress of losing their home. Sister Maureen told me in Memphis, there are limited options for families that want to stay together.  One shelter hosts adult males, one shelter hosts women. This means during the toughest times, husband and wives are separated. It got worse as Sister Maureen continued. The shelter for men is for individuals 18 and older, and in many cases, the shelters for women stop housing males over the age of 6. That leaves a huge gap of homeless individuals not being served under these regulations. As a result, many families stay in their cars to avoid being separated. The local shelters know of the Dorothy Day house, and try to refer families who are in need for this service as much as possible. That being said, the house has room for three families, and their stays range from three weeks to one year. There is no waiting list; it’s all first come first serve. The program is run entirely on private donations, allowing the house to create a unique atmosphere to fit their vision.

Sister Maureen and another volunteer cut in to a dessert to share.

Sister Maureen and another volunteer cut in to a dessert to share.

After the group prayer, I had the chance to visit with some of the families staying at the house. Their stories varied, as homelessness does not discriminate. We talked about their backgrounds, where the kids attended school, and their future plans. Sitting in the dining room over a cup of coffee, there was a sense of community, not hopelessness or despair as you might associate with a homeless shelter. The Dorothy Day House does an outstanding job of encouraging these families to make it their home during their time there.

This final stop on my Volunteer Odyssey not only left me thankful for the blessings I have in my life, it also made me thankful for the programs and people I encountered this week spreading kindness in Memphis.

 

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Megan Banaszek already found a job! You can now find her at the Carpenter Art Garden!

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Week 19, Day 5: There’s No Place Like Home (A Glimpse At Dorothy’s House)

I first heard about Dorothy Day from my friend Eric. At the time, we were both volunteering with a nonprofit to host non-denominational worship services at Glacier National Park. Eric was a hitchhiking, train-jumping, crusty punk kid with a lot of tattoos and even more stories. He was a terrific storyteller and terribly unimpressed with my music choices. Somewhere along his travels, he wound up volunteering and living at a Dorothy Day House. I want to say in North Carolina.

62718896Kat and Eric at Glacier National Park.

I haven’t seen Eric in years, but I think of him and his stories frequently. Opening my Volunteer Odyssey schedule and discovering the Memphis Dorothy Day House for Day 5 was a huge treat. There are approximately 250 Dorothy Day Houses in the United States. One of the most interesting things about the Dorothy Day Houses is that each house is run independently from one another, so focuses are different.

The Memphis house is for homeless families. It is unmarked, blending in easily with other residential homes in the area. Based on my other posts that hint at my navigational struggles, it probably comes as no surprise that I blew right past it.

I think it can be incredibly hard to define what a homeless shelter is or isn’t. Through the years, I’ve seen a church, an old health care center, a rumored-brothel-turned-convent and a former Masonic lodge all serve as shelters. Now, though, I’ve seen a shelter that looks exactly like a house. Everything about the Dorothy Day House is welcoming -the plush couches, the long dining room table, and the piano in the front hall. It’s a house you want to be in.20140608_Dorothy_Day_House_02The Dorothy Day House living room.

Volunteer Odyssey alumni have done a terrific job sharing the Dorothy Day House’s mission in their blog posts, so in an effort to save time and not be too terribly repetitive, I’ll simply share a few of its highlights with some nifty bullet points.

  • About 150 homeless families in Memphis at any given time. This number does not reflect families living with friends/family or in motel rooms.
  • In Memphis, women and children accepted at one shelter; men at another. Teenage boys are not accepted at either and may be put into foster care until families are more stable.
  • Dorothy Day House works to keep families together while providing a home-like atmosphere. Up to three families can stay at the house, which has three bedrooms and a very home-like atmosphere.

I joined a mother-son volunteering duo and hung out for a 10-minute prayer service with two families staying at the house, a board member, and Sister Maureen. Sister Maureen is one of the people responsible for starting up the Dorothy Day House nearly a decade ago to keep homeless families intact in the Memphis community.

May I pause here to say that I love Catholic sisters? In Kansas, I used to hang out at a sustainable farm run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. They had a herd of alpacas and taught classes on how to spin alpaca fiber.

20130914_heartland_farm_04Sister Terry of Heartland Farm in Kansas.

I’ve lost a lot of card games to Catholic sisters three times my age and clearly three times my wit. Last December, I wound up quitting my job to live with Peruvian Catholic sisters in their convents.

20140124_nuns_playing_volleyball_01Madre Lucia supervising an impromptu volleyball game in Peru.

It probably goes without saying that Sister Maureen is stellar, but let me just reiterate: Sister Maureen is stellar. I sort of feel that if there’s a social justice issue going on and something needs to be done about it, just get a Catholic sister like Sister Maureen on board.

Onward.

Prayer was short and sweet–perfect for anyone with kids. Over beautifully decorated cupcakes brought by the lovely volunteer Anne, our group traded book recommendations, shared summer plans, and bantered about the differences and similarities between culture in Northern and Southern states.

The biggest thing I took away from the Dorothy Day House is that it is a community built around family. The feeling of this is a homeless shelter never quite sunk in for me. Rather it felt like, oh look, new friends! Well done, Dorothy Day House, well done.

20140608_Dorothy_Day_House_01Kat and Dorothy Day

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at katfranchino@yahoo.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

 

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Possible Sainthood!

The little girl of one of the volunteers. Her mom commits a lot of her time here!
The Dorothy Day House

The Dorothy Day House

The Dorothy Day House is a home that supports and provides a safe space for homeless families.   This facility is the only place in Memphis that accepts entire families without separating the children and parents.  The house can take up to three families at a time, depending on their size and needs.

At the time of my visit there was only one family staying at the house.  This is fairly rare, and, they often have to turn families away because they are full, sometimes up to fifteen families at a time.   According to the Dorothy Day House, at the last count of homeless people, it was reported that an astounding 214 families are on the streets in Memphis.

As I listened to these statistics, I heard a baby crying upstairs; all I could think was that were it not for the Dorothy Day House and house manager Sister Maureen, that small child might be crying under a bridge or overpass.  The mom could be worrying about where the next diaper or food to nourish them would come from or how she would feed her teenage son.   I was unable to meet Sister Maureen, but I am told that she should receive Sainthood because of her giving and willing heart.  She takes in and mentors these families, loving them and encouraging them.

There are many activities at the house, one of which I got to participate in which was prayer time on Sundays.  It was wonderful to know that we were praying for the health and welfare for the family staying there and the ones that would be coming, as well as those who had already lived there.  At Dorothy Day they offer assistance in parenting skills, job contacts, employment counseling, educational resources, and transportation. They also keep in touch with families to help ensure that they do not return to homelessness.

The little girl of one of the volunteers. Her mom commits a lot of her time here!

The little girl of one of the volunteers. Her mom commits a lot of her time here!

This non-profit organization depends largely on volunteers and donations.  Without volunteers, the services they offer would be impossible.  To take in a family of four and provide for their needs is costly.  I hope you will go to their website and consider volunteering!

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Home Is Where the Heart Is

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Day 6. I have driven past The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality numerous times and never even knew it existed. The sign-less large gray house sits on Poplar Avenue with no indication of the wonderful organization that functions inside.

Dorothy Day was an activist for people acquiring jobs and places to stay that were safe. In the 1930s, Dorothy and Peter Maurin started the Catholic Workers Movement in New York

Volunteers of all ages join for Sunday prayer.

Volunteers of all ages join for Sunday prayer.

City to help the overwhelming homeless population secure safety with shelter, food, and clothing. More than 250 Dorothy Day Houses exist in the US today, and each is based on the needs of its respective area. For example, a particular House may cater specifically to immigrants or those living with alcoholism. The Memphis mission is “Keeping Homeless Families Together.” In Memphis, if a family has no home, but has a job, the city will pay a security deposit and one month’s rent. However, if a family is homeless but does not have a job, they will be sent to a shelter. The men reside at the Union Mission, and the women sleep at the Salvation Army. If space allows, small boys are allowed to stay at the Salvation Army, but the shelter is usually full, causing families to be separated. When this happens, the boys most likely end up in foster care and away from their mothers’ arms.

Having opened in May 2006 in Memphis, The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality has served 31 families with no more than three families living in the house at one time. The families go through extensive interviews, drug testing, background checks, etc., and the House provides anything residents need to get back on their feet as long as they are working hard toward independence. It provides clothes, transportation, GED test registration fees, and counseling, to name a few services. Unfortunately, around 150 families are homeless each night, and the Dorothy Day House must turn away 8-10 families per week. The smaller amount of families lets the organization really work with each resident on a daily basis to set, focus on and reach their goals.

Walking in, I was greeted by Sister Maureen, the executive director, who gave me a

The amazing stovetop warming a pot of coffee.

The amazing stovetop warming a pot of coffee.

historical overview of The Dorothy Day House and then invited me to join everyone in Sunday prayer. In addition to the six residents of the house, a board member, her young daughter, and a leader in the ministry all congregated in the spacious and comfy living room decorated with a deep couch and several oversized armchairs to give thanks and pray for hope. It’s no surprise Sister Maureen’s favorite Dorothy Day quote is “Put a pot of coffee and a pot of soup on the stove, open the door, and God will take care of the rest” because as soon as prayer ended, we all gathered for much appreciated coffee and delicious homemade desserts.

As soon as I saw the kitchen, I was instantly amazed. It was the most well-equipped cooking

Enjoying delicious homemade cake.

Enjoying delicious homemade cake.

space I had ever seen: double ovens, two Sub-Zero refrigerators, and an eight-burner stovetop! The dining room had a gorgeous, brown table surrounded by around eight plush, matching chairs as well as a massive white-stone fireplace. There was also a playroom that doubled as an office, which was fully adorned with children’s toys such as a cooking station and contained two computers hooked up to the Internet for researching potential jobs. A handicap accessible bathroom connected to the playroom. The residents sleep upstairs, where there is a total of three bedrooms and three full bathrooms.

During my visit, there were two families staying in the house. One young mother, who was about to take her GED exam, had two small boys between ages 1 and 3. These boys were

If one came to sit in my lap, the other wasn't far behind.

If one came to sit in my lap, the other wasn’t far behind.

hands-down the most adorable children and were so excited to see pictures of themselves and even my dog, Schnauzie. The younger brother loved playing his tiny piano and loudly giggled each time he created music of any sort. The laughter of a baby is one of the most joyous sounds in this world! The older brother had so much energy and would dart from room to room, conversing with anyone who would listen. The other family consisted of a 14 year old son, 20 year old daughter, and a mother, who had one on the way (due on Wednesday!). The daughter had just passed her CPR certification and had two job interviews last week. I was able to connect with the 14 year old as we spoke about high school, track, and iPhones. I really had a great time speaking and interacting with these wonderful people while in the House, and I hope I am able to become more involved in helping this magnificent organization thrive.

While I did not learn why these particular families needed to stay in The Dorothy Day House, Sister Maureen gave me a few reasons why families have come here in the past. One mother was in an accident that totaled her car. Sadly, this prevented her from traveling, and she lost her job as a result. Another family had jobs, but did not make enough money to rent an apartment. They did all that they could to make ends meet and that still wasn’t enough. Lastly, generational poverty can be a huge hindrance. Can you imagine what success would look like if you had never personally witnessed it?

The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is a hidden gem in Memphis. It only receives funding

So full of life!

So full of life!

through private donations including monetary as well as furniture. There are other ways to help though through volunteer programs including but not limited to providing meals for the families, registering personal Kroger cards, various types of manual labor, and hosting childcare. To find out more about The Dorothy Day of Hospitality, visit www.DorothyDayMemphis.org. The organization is even being featured in The Bridge, a newspaper written by those affected by homelessness. I plan to purchase mine for $1 at The Memphis Farmer’s Market on Saturday! Additionally, The Memphis Rotary Club is hosting a Rotary Bicycle Ride benefiting The Dorothy Day House on April 26, 2014 at Overton Park. You have the option to ride 50 miles, 30 miles, participate in a fun walk/run/ride, or just come to cheer people on. To register for this fantastic event, visit www.rotaryfamilyride.com.

Six days down – only one more to go! Stay tuned for Day 7!

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in writing, event planning, communications, or teaching. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or aesamsell@gmail.com.

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Dorothy Day House: Keeping Families Together

Keeping families together.
Keeping families together.

Keeping families together.

Homelessness is unfortunately a huge problem within the city of Memphis.  Memphis also has a high rate of poverty, which at times leads to homelessness.  Thankfully we have the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The Dorothy Day House provides temporary housing and support services for homeless families.  By working with other local agencies, staff members and volunteers help provide families in need with a safe environment and the means to re-establish their independence. The key is keeping families together.

As I arrived, I was greeted by a very kind and goodhearted woman by the name of Sister Maureen. She really took the time and talked about what the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) is and why it is important to make sure that families who find themselves homeless should be able to stay together.  A family sticking together is key when re-establishing their independence and knowing they are always there for each other. The House can only hold three families at a time.  Most families stay at least six months or more depending on how long it takes them to get their feet back on the ground.  While I was there, I got to meet one of the families – a single mom with her daughter and son. I also was able to be there for their Sunday night prayer service which involves a prayer, a reading, and a reflection and of course dessert.  I learned that the Dorothy Day House not only helps the families find jobs, but they make sure that goals are set.  Goal setting is a great tool and positive outlet to help a person get to self-sufficiency.

Dorothy Day House has a goal themselves. They hope to have an apartment area for residents from the DDHH one day.  Once residents have found a job, the key is to save their money, but also to get their independence back by finding an apartment to live in. This apartment could be a starting point until they are able to find a more permanent place to live.  It usually takes $150,000 to keep DDHH funded.  DDHH is solely based on donations from private donors and charitable organizations. Sometimes people get concerned with wanting bigger and better things and they lose their focus.  We need to stop and think of others.  It is good to be thankful and content with what we have and start caring for the homeless. Does having it “all” make life any easier? Not necessarily, but showing compassion for others through God’s love is living for Him.  Also, when you die you can’t take your worldly possessions with you so why not help our brothers and sisters out if you have the means financially.  I love how Sister Maureen said she came to Memphis to be a choir director but God definitely had other plans for her life.

Here is a list of items they are in need of.

Here is a list of items they are in need of.

Thank you for reading! Blair Hayes is searching for a job where she can merge her enthusiasm for our community with her education and experience; she can bring a positive attitude ministering to high school students, college-aged students and families.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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7 Days of Service

Epilogue from Sarah Beth Jarnagin

I encountered a lot of different types of people and situations during my Volunteer Odyssey Week. I was blessed by a young Ethiopian boy’s grateful heart after I helped him with his geology homework; and a woman whose heart has gone out to families divided by homelessness. It all caused me to realize that instead of simply not doing enough “good things” in my life, I had been robbing myself of so many life altering people and experiences. The people I met, in need or meeting needs, appeared to me as courageous. Whether they were a young girl living life joyfully with only three swollen fingers on each hand, or a man excited to wake up early each morning and serve starving people breakfast, our city is full of people working hard to meet it’s needs. I was humbled to learn about the many creative ways people have cultivated to begin solving our issues. When one gives, more is required than time or money, sacrifice is necessary.  The individuals I served beside each made the decision to sacrifice something in their own lives.

A great reward of service is to receive love from those you have given it to.  People are grateful for the little things and those who share get to reap the benefits. Every volunteer experience was special in its own way, but there were a few people and places I can’t seem to get off my mind. There are images of children’s smiles that have stuck in my mind, people’s voices, their stories, and struggles. One eight year old African male who could barely read, without the help of his afterschool refugee program he might not ever have the chance to learn. After my week I had the chance to go back to Advance Memphis and volunteer again, there wasn’t one person that didn’t remember me. The students were so happy to see me even though they had only met me one time. I was moved to see such genuine love from people that I had only given a day’s time. I have been challenged to view people differently and to love them the way Jesus Christ has loved me. The people I encountered taught me so much. They have shown me courage. They don’t see color or poverty. I want to understand better and I want to see people as people. I know that the more time I spend with people who are different than me the more I will be able to relate to their way of life and the obstacles they face everyday. Living on the streets, living in dangerous places, being born into poverty, being treated differently because of where one is from or the way they talk and dress, all these things are normalcy to some.

I can’t relate to that. I don’t have any idea what it feels like to be treated differently because of how I look or how I’m dressed. I didn’t come from wealth, but I didn’t come from poverty either. I came from a middle class white family that had enough money for food, tv, and occasional extra things. As far as middle class I was never at the top. I didn’t own expensive things or go on lavish vacations, but I learned how to fit in with everybody else. People didn’t know the difference between my penny and their dollar. My clothes looked just as nice or better, I knew things, I spoke well. You see, the higher paid and lower paid middle class citizens all run together there is not much distinction. Yet, for people living in poverty there are always clear implications. I can’t imagine walking around with a sign on my back that said,” I have less money than you, my opportunities are more limited, my education wasn’t as good as yours.” I may not know anything about being treated differently, but I am aware of what it’s like to look at someone else and know that financial status makes one different; it means people don’t fully understand each other and the personal circumstances experienced. It causes my pride to swell up inside, and arrogantly it says they’ll never fathom a way of life that requires one to work hard for what they want and sometimes need. That pride causes dissension and resentment. I have come to realize that maybe if I looked to people who have less instead of more, then some of that pride might fade and I might begin to relate to people who live a lifestyle far different from my own means.

The majority of organizations I had the chance to serve depend solely on volunteers and support from people around them. It gave me much pleasure to see all the ways our city is being built up. I met numerous people that have answered a call on their lives. I definitely plan to revisit my volunteer sites and build relationships with the people serving and the people being served.

Real Southern Hospitality

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The Dorothy Day House has taken hospitality to the next level. They opened a home specifically for people in periods of transition in order to address homelessness. In the city of Memphis, after the age of 13, boys are not permitted to stay at homeless shelters with their mothers. Because of this rule, many families become separated when children reach this age. The Dorothy Day House was created specifically for cases when mothers and children are in danger of separation. The house accommodates four entire families.

Founders of the home were inspired by Dorothy Day herself, an activist from the 1930s-1980s. She opened several houses of hospitality for homeless and poverty stricken people. They saw a need for a homeless shelter in the city of Memphis that housed whole families, so they created The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. They help parents get back on their feet and work out programs for them to get jobs, their G.E.D. or anything else necessary for them to provide for themselves. They also work to help them plan out their financial future and create sustainability in their lives.

I shared a nice Sunday night with the families staying at The Dorothy Day House. We talked over brownies and juice boxes, and I was entertained by a game of Twister with the kids. The children appeared to be content and generally carefree. The oldest boy currently living at the house is 13 years old; he lives there with his mother and sister. While we worked on a puzzle together, he told me about school and the activities he planned to participate in. His sister told me how she was studying to take her A.C.T. Thanks to the Dorothy Day House, this family is able to stay together and continue living their lives while their mother searches for a job.

I had the chance to play with a very active five-year-old, who I would assume spends his time entertaining the other residents. As he ran around the room and quickly swallowed his fudge brownie, I observed that he was being given the opportunity to live a somewhat normal, happy life while his mother works to obtain her G.E.D. and get a higher-paying job.

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The home provides more than shelter; it provides a waiting place while families put their life back together and allows them the chance to make it better than before. Residents at The Dorothy Day House also receive love and support during their stay. When I arrived, I was seated in a cozy living room, and family members came downstairs for a time of prayer and read scripture verses from the Bible. The residents welcomed me as we shared prayer time together.

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The home is run by a board of directors and Executive Director Sister Maureen Griner. The Dorothy Day House gains support from private donors and charitable foundations. As they work to keep homeless families together and breach the cycle of poverty in the city of Memphis, it is important that they continuously gain support from donors and volunteers.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job that allows me to provide public relations for a faith based non-profit or Christian organization using my strengths in relationship development, social media, and writing.  If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or sjarnagi@mc.edu.

Family Matters

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“Put a pot of coffee and a pot of soup on the stove, open the door, and God will take care of the rest.”

 

That Dorothy Day quote is the motto of Sister Maureen, the only employee of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The House provides temporary housing and support services for homeless families in Memphis. It is the only shelter in Memphis where families including both parents or teenage boys are allowed to stay together, and the only one without a time limit on how long a family can stay. In addition to the immediate needs of food, shelter, and clothing, the Dorothy Day House works with each family to set goals of self sufficiency. Educational resources, job training, financial planning, childcare assistance, tutoring, transportation, and permanent housing assistance are just some of the holistic services offered by the House to support and prepare families for the transition to self sufficiency. Even after the family leaves the house they are supported by the staff and volunteers, who offer assistance with any issue threatening the family’s independence.

Fellow Volunteer Odyssey blogger Dorothy joins me at the house

Fellow Volunteer Odyssey blogger Dorothy joins me at the house

I met Sister Maureen at the house’s Sunday evening prayers, where she hosts volunteers and family members that wish to join. Over spice cake and coffee, she tells the story of how the house began. In 2002, a small prayer group began to conceive of the ministry they wished to create to serve the city of Memphis. Through much discernment, they came to the writings of Dorothy Day, a pioneer in social justice, and founder of the first House of Hospitality in the 1930’s. With Peter Maurin, Day was co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a completely volunteer based organization that provided food, clothing, and shelter to the poor and homeless. Now, there are more than 200 institutions nationwide providing social services in accordance with the catholic Worker principals, including many “houses of hospitality.” The prayer group decided to open one in Memphis and through charitable donations was able to purchase a house on Poplar in 2004. The house opened to residents in 2006, and has served three families at a time ever since.

Me with volunteers Madeline and Caroline

Me with volunteers Madeline and Caroline

As Sister Maureen shows us the family portraits that line the walls of the dining room, it is clear that she and the volunteers she relies on have saved lives with the work they do. Families make their way to the house in different states and through different circumstances, but whether they are dealing with generational poverty, trauma, a lack of education, or some other difficulty, the house provides a safe place for the family as a whole to recuperate and re-establish their independence.

 

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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What Happened to My Home

What Happened to My Home

By: Max Groce

I didn’t really know where to start on this blog about my Volunteering at the Dorothy Day House. I’ve never even been close to being homeless in my life. We lived in a small house when I was a kid but it was all my family ever needed and in my eyes it was perfect; it was warm in the winter and dry in the rain. So I’m here trying to think and all I can come up with is, “what in the heck do I know about being homeless?”

I go to the store to pick up cupcakes for dessert for the Dorothy Day House. I drive down 240 and get off on poplar and I arrive at the house. From the front it looks like a regular large old midtown Memphis house.  I pull around the narrow alley around back and park; I ring the back door bell and I’m greeted by Sister Maureen.  She ushers me into the living room where we sit down and she tells me what the house is all about. The house is definitely old it still has most of its original molding but it still looks good; there are pictures all over the dinner room of the families that have stayed at the house. I sit on a chair in the living room opposite of Sister Maureen and one of the other volunteers, Mr. Paul, who comes to lead in prayers. Sister Maureen starts to tell me how she started the house. She saw homelessness as a real problem, especially when it came to families. Most of the time when a family becomes homeless they are forced to split up. For example, men over a certain age go to the missions. Women, girls, and young girls might go the Salvation Army in Jackson and teenagers could end up somewhere in foster care. You have to realize that all of this is contingent upon whether there is room at these places; if there is not room, and then they’re on the street. Sister Maureen let me know that there are usually close to 200 families on the street homeless in Memphis.

So to combat this, Sister Maureen opened the Dorothy Day House which houses about 3 families rent free. Not only does she house them, she helps the children get into the nearby schools, and the adults find employment.  She tells me that the reason she believes this works is that it doesn’t feel like an institution. It feels like the most important thing, it feels like a home. They’re allowed to be together and feel each other’s support.  A family arrives soon after we finish stalking and Mr. Paul leads us in prayer and then we have dessert and coffee.  It’s incredible to hear the family’s story, and you start to imagine the stories of all the pictures on the walls. Sister Maureen explained some of them to me and they all have a pretty common characteristic.  It all starts with somebody trying to better themselves or get their family into a better place, then something tragic happens and then they fall with no safety net.

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The Dining Room

I finish my coffee and talking to the family at the table and Sister Maureen then I my way home.  It’s on the car ride home that the little acts of kindness things truly started to make sense.  Sister Maureen didn’t start some huge organization with hundreds of thousands of dollars, all she did was take in three families in desperate need off the street and it made it all the difference in the world. She gave them the thing that we take for granted so much; she gave them a home. A place to lay their heads and safety at least for a little while. She gave the adults the peace of mind that at least their kids get to sleep in a bed.  It’s crazy to think about all the things that we complain about. Me not excluded – I mean I lose my head when my Wi-Fi doesn’t work in my house but when I really start to think about it, it seems so distantly insignificant compared to the thought of not being able to be with my family.

I have to say out of all the work I did this week the Dorothy Day House had the biggest impact on me. When I got back from volunteering I did some reading and I ran across my quote that put into some perspective.  The quote is by Wallace Stegner and it says, “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted can comprehend.” After volunteering, I was still far from understanding homelessness but I did have a better grasp of understanding hope and the little acts of kindness keep the despair and darkness at bay.