Week 12, Day 7: Michael Garcia at Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

Michael Garcia at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality.

My final assignment for my Volunteer Odyssey was to visit the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, a shelter for homeless families located on Poplar Ave. At the house, I met Sister Maureen, the executive director of the Dorothy Day House, along with some members of the families currently residing there. We had coffee and delicious lemon cake while Sister Maureen told me all about the shelter.

When families become homeless they often get split up, with different members going to different shelters. Some shelters will only take adult men while others take only women, adults and children. Boys who are not yet adults are often left with nowhere to go. The Dorothy Day House was founded with the purpose of keeping homeless families intact while they get back on their feet.

The shelter is named for Dorothy Day, who during the Great Depression, founded the Catholic Worker Movement, a volunteer organization which served the poor and homeless. There are many Dorothy Day Houses in the US and abroad, but they are unaffiliated and independent of each other, each serving its own community as best it can. The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality here in Memphis acquired its house in 2004, and after extensive renovation opened in 2006. They have plans of expanding and opening more houses here in Memphis.

The shelter does not receive any funding from the City or any religious organization. They depend entirely on private donations. Sister Maureen explained to me that this allows them to be free from any externally imposed restrictions about who they can give shelter to and how long they are allowed to stay.

The Dorothy Day House has the capacity to house three families at a time. Every family goes through a screening process to determine if they can be best helped by the Dorothy Day House and if they would get along well with the other families living there. If they are accepted, the staff of the Dorothy Day House work with the families to set goals to get them back into their own home. The families stay as long as they need to as long as they are working to meet their goals.

While visiting there I met Taylor, the father of one of the families. He recently found a job working at an upscale restaurant here in Memphis. His son, Justice, is a big fan of Spider-Man. I also met Caitlin, a teenager whom Sister Maureen described as a great influence on the other children living in the house. She always starts her homework immediately after arriving back from school, whereupon the other children gather around her at a table and do their homework.

After the coffee and cake, Sister Maureen gave me a tour of the ground floor. There is a large kitchen, a dining room, living room, and a playroom that doubles as a computer room, where the adults can go online and apply for jobs. On the tour, I was particularly interested in a picture of Dorothy Day that hangs above the fireplace in the dining room. It is done in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript, which is why it caught my attention. The picture was donated to the shelter by someone who actually knew Dorothy Day, had opened several Dorothy Day shelters around the world, and had come to Memphis to help train the staff at the shelter here.

Michael Garcia at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality.

Michael Garcia at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality.

All the furniture in the Dorothy Day House was donated, and they have storage units full of more donated furniture and household goods. When families are able to move out of the Dorothy Day House and into their own home, they often receive furniture from the Dorothy Day House so that they won’t be moving into a bare house or apartment. The staff at the shelter continue their relationships with those families once they move out, to do all they can to ensure their success.

Donating furniture is only one way people can help out the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. In addition to accepting financial contributions, the shelter is always looking for volunteers to help out with things like house maintenance and yard work, cooking meals, childcare, and assisting with fundraisers. They are also very flexible regarding volunteers’ ability to contribute. I let Sister Maureen know that I am interested in helping tutor residents.

Driving home from the shelter, I realized that my Volunteer Odyssey week was now over. Of course that doesn’t mean my volunteering is over. I definitely intend to return to the places I’ve been blogging about this past week.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as an historical consultant, researcher or educator. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

Cheers,
Michael

My profile pages:
LinkedIn
Academia.edu

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Week 12, Day 5: Michael Garcia at Hospitality Hub

Michael Garcia assembling donation bags for the Hospitality Hub.

Today was a bit different than the other days thus far on my volunteer odyssey. My volunteer experience today brought me to the Hospitality Hub, located downtown on 2nd Street. The Hospitality Hub is a resource center which offers a variety of services for the homeless, ranging from the simple, like offering refreshments such as coffee and access to bathrooms, to other services like mental health counseling and access to lockers, phones, computers, a mailing address, and identification services. The mission of the Hospitality Hub is to provide the resources people need most to help them make their way out of homelessness. It strikes me that most of these resources are things many people take for granted, yet without which it would be nearly impossible to accomplish things like getting a job or finding a place to live.

My contribution to the Hospitality Hub was to assemble some donation bags and drop them off so that they could then be redistributed to the clients of the Hospitality Hub. Each bag contained snacks as well as items for maintaining personal hygiene. I assembled the bags at home, putting a razor blade, toothbrush and some beef jerky into individual sandwich bags.

Michael Garcia assembling donation bags for the Hospitality Hub.

Michael Garcia assembling donation bags for the Hospitality Hub.

Donation bags for the Hospitality Hub assembled by Michael Garcia.

Donation bags for the Hospitality Hub assembled by Michael Garcia.

Michael Garcia assembling donation bags for the Hospitality Hub.

Michael Garcia assembling donation bags for the Hospitality Hub.

 

When I arrived at the Hub to drop off the bags, the place was very busy! I spoke for just a few minutes with Kelcey, the Associate Director of the Hospitality Hub about what they do there. Although my visit to the Hospitality Hub was brief, it made an impression on me. There are clearly many people out there who need help and are willing to put the effort into improving their lives. It is a good thing that there are organizations like Hospitality Hub, The Bridge, the Green Machine, SRVS, and St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen to help such individuals. Such organizations would not exist without the hard work of dedicated staff and volunteers. I’m glad I live in a world where there are many who sacrifice their time for these organizations, and I hope my humble blog posts encourage others to go out there and volunteer.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as an historical consultant, researcher or educator. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

Cheers,
Michael

My profile pages:
LinkedIn
Academia.edu

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Week 9, Day 1: Ellen at Hospitality Hub

z betsy and kelcey

Today was an intense start of my odyssey.  I went to the Hospitality Hub, a place where those without shelter can come to receive assistance. What I learned is how little I know about homelessness. When I thought of a homeless person, the image of a man with a long beard wearing layers of clothes pushing a grocery cart which carried the accumulation of his worldly possessions is what came to mind. Not to say that this image isn’t sometimes an accurate depiction of endemic homelessness, but this is not what I witnessed today. Today I saw people who mostly looked like any other person I might run into in Memphis and would never guess they were homeless. I witnessed many people who cared for their personal appearance and hygiene as best as they could and wanted out of the circumstances they were in. It is for them that Hospitality Hub exists.

With Kelcey in front of the volunteer information board.

With Kelcey in front of the volunteer information board.

Upon my arrival, I met director Kelcey Johnson, a man who has dedicated his life to help people get out of homelessness. He explained to me how the Hospitality Hub operates and provided a tour of the facility. With only a staff of six and a host of volunteers, they help hundreds of people on their path out of homelessness by connecting them with the appropriate resources, whether it be obtaining a Social Security Number, identification, an address, a telephone, a locker for storage, job opportunities and/or professional development, bus vouchers, how to locate a food pantry, temporary housing, access to rehabilitation, counseling, etc… It truly is a hub of resources.

When the doors open at 9:30 AM the staff and volunteers are prepared to do intake with those soliciting their services to determine which resources are best suited to assist them. I was fortunate to get to observe this process with veteran volunteer, Betsy, who has been volunteering with the Hub for seven years. She is a great representation of Hospitality Hub’s commitment to treat everyone with dignity and respect. The women that Betsy met with today appeared to be in desperate situations. One was in need of identification and was anxious to get it ASAP, while the other suffered from uncontrolled diabetes and had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness. It was difficult to observe because it made me wonder if it really is possible for her to no longer be homeless. I learned shelters provide temporary free housing for a limited amount of time, and she only had two weeks left where she was staying. Their hours are strict and no food is allowed to be brought on the premise. Due to her diabetes, she could not eat some of the food the shelter served. Her only other option was to skip a meal which she had done that morning. While Betsy had stepped out to acquire more information for her, she asked me where she could get a meal during that time of day. I   found the schedule of soup kitchens in Memphis, and we were able to locate a place where she could get lunch. I hope it was diabetic friendly.

z betsy and kelcey

Betsy and Kelcey at the intake desk

After observing, I started to sense a growing anxiety in me as I imagined a day in her or anyone else’s shoes who was there for help.  I could overhear the chatter from other volunteers doing intake and caught pockets of conversations:

“I don’t have a way to get around to seek out job applications….”

“I only have one more night left at the shelter…”

“I have scoliosis…I don’t know where to go for help…” 

But I witnessed how calm and collected Betsy and Kelcey were, and my heartbeat returned to its normal rate. It is not uncommon for the staff to come across a variety complicated situations, yet they know there is a solution. In the case of this particular woman with diabetes and a mental health diagnosis, she was enrolled in a program designed specifically to help people who are in such circumstances. She will get assistance in applying for disability, obtaining medical attention, mental health services and   locating a job. The Hub won’t do it for her, but they will walk alongside and support her with the tools she needs to regain a home of her own.

I asked Kelcey if there were any generalizations in the causes of the homelessness in the cases they encounter. He said every case is different; every case is unique. I am incredibly grateful for the staff and volunteers of the Hospitality Hub who have taken on a mountainous challenge to address every  case and provide people with the resources and assistance they need to acquire their own housing and regain dignity. I highly recommend it as a long-term volunteer placement for anyone with availability during weekday mornings. It is a way to help people turn their lives around and offer a hand-up to those who have been knocked down—often very hard. Just one morning there made me much more aware of the reality of homelessness and that a little help goes a long way.

 

El resumen en español:

Hoy fue un inicio muy intenso en mi odisea porque yo fui al Hospitality Hub donde las personas desamparadas  pueden ir para encontrar recursos que les ayuden a salir de esa situación tan difícil. El director, Kelcey Johnson, me enseñ­ó las instalaciones y me dio una explicación de todo lo que hacen.  El Hospitality Hub provee recursos a las personas sin hogar, como un lugar para guardar sus cosas, una dirección donde puedan recibir correos, teléfonos, acceso a computadoras, ayuda para encontrar trabajos, obtener identificaciones, lugares donde puedan recibir atención médica, ayuda para personas que tienen enfermedades mentales, etc… Es realmente una central de cualquier información que uno pudiera necesitar para salir del desamparo.

Hoy observé el proceso de como reciben a los clientes y les dan sus próximos pasos para obtener los servicios necesarios para ayudarles.  Yo vi este proceso con una voluntaria que se llama Betsy quien tiene siete años de experiencia de servir en el Hospitality Hub. Había dos mujeres con situaciones desesperadas. Es difícil para mí entender cómo es que van a salir de sus situaciones tan complicadas. Me dio tanto pesar pero vi la tranquilidad de Betsy y Kelcey y eso me calmo. Ellos tienen bastante experiencia de realizar este trabajo y saben que aunque sea muy difícil, hay soluciones para la gente sin hogar.

Aprendí hoy que las personas desamparadas no necesariamente aparentan serlo. Parecen como cualquier persona que yo pudiera encontrar en Memphis y la vida les ha dado un golpe muy fuerte. Un apoyito es un montón de ayuda para ellos. Súper recomendada  forma de pasar sus mañanas entre lunes y viernes si tiene ganas de hacer su ciudad un lugar mejor!

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