Room for All

My boy Mark

RITIHow does one describe the feeling of family? Safe? Comforting? Being at ease? These and more are the sentiments one feels when walking into Room in the Inn (RITI). This is all done intentionally.

I had the great pleasure of being able to work with Sarah, Volunteer Odyssey’s founder, this fine evening. First, let me provide some background on RITI. RITI started in Nashville in 1986 with four congregations committing to sheltering the homeless through the winter and spring. Since then the Nashville program has grown leaps and bounds while the Memphis chapter started in 2010. RITI’s mission is to help provide a sense of hospitality for the homeless. In order to achieve this, RITI provides a number of guests with a hot dinner, a hot shower, warm clothes and a warm bed for the evening. It is all provided with the good company of those who run and volunteer. The piano will be played, songs will be sung and, if my experience is any indicator, a good time will be had by all.

Sarah and I started our evening by helping Laura, the on-site coordinator for RITI at Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church, prep the beds. We stripped the beds and remade them with fresh sheets, pillow cases and blankets. When the guests leave, they are allowed to take the blanket with them.

great technique

great technique

We then moved into the best part of the evening; dinner time. On the menu tonight was homemade chili. Not only was the chili delicious, it was quite the conversation starter! Everyone there had an opinion on not only the best style of chili, but the best toppings and even the best kind of tomatoes to use! One of the guests, James, is a chili connoisseur. We had a great conversation and traded recipes which I hope to be trying out soon.

Another friend I made at RITI was a gentleman named Mark. Mark is just full of smiles. We became fast friends when he complimented my red cowboy boots. Compliments are always the quickest way to my heart.

My boy Mark

My boy Mark

Although Mark liked my boots, he preferred his own black boots. Originally from Nashville, Mark loves country music. He actually had the opportunity to stand in the ring onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. He had great stories about his time in Nashville. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to learn more about Mark and his story.

After dinner, Sarah, Laura and I proceeded up to the clothes closet where we not only helped to sort a large quantity of clothing donations we also helped guests find new clothing and accessories they needed. Sorting through the clothes I was struck with two sentiments. First, I should never work in retail. Second, on a more serious note, the quality of some of the donations were laughable at best. Some of the clothing we went through had holes, stains or maybe seemed dirty. That is completely unacceptable. However, Laura has no qualms about what is appropriate and will readily deny clothing in poor conition. It is a true testament to her success and the high standards that RITI holds for their guests that she makes such distinctions.

digging for gold

digging for gold

Friends, I’m not going to lie. At first, I was a little nervous about volunteering at RITI. I’m not sure why but I think I was a little anxious about the role I would play. Those feelings quickly dissipated upon entering the church and talking to everyone there. I felt surrounded by love, warmth, and friendship. It was like going to a family member’s house and getting to meet people from all over with the best stories. These kinds of experiences help to clarify that “doing community service” is so much more than being a body that can help make beds, cook food or even provide clothes; it’s all about connections. The connections that you can make with someone just by having a conversation can be life changing. There are very few feelings that are better than being heard and feeling as though your voice is important. There is certainly room in the inn for all when the conversation is open to all.

Until next time,

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Breaking Bread

vo2 020

vo2 010

It wasn’t as cold as it had been the preceding nights, but it was still wet and dreary and I was fighting a cold, so I took a long hot shower before I left to spend my evening with the guests of Room in the Inn.

It’s one of life great pleasures, isn’t it – a long hot shower when you’re cold and wet and tired? When you’re sore down to your bones and you just want to feel warm and clean and climb into bed?

That’s what they provide at Room in the Inn. A meal, a shower, a bed, one night a week, to those who don’t have it.

In 2010, Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church began their homeless outreach ministry based on the successful Room in the Inn model used in Nashville. During the cold winter months, from November to March, a time when thousands of homeless people die each year, the congregation would offer a safe place to stay once a week. Since that time, many churches have joined together to offer shelter to the city’s homeless population on a weekly basis. It’s possible you’ve read in the newspaper or seen on social media that one church has been issued a citation for hosting an evening, and several more have received complaints from neighbors.

I think if those neighbors were to spend the evening at an Inn, they’d feel differently. I arrived at Peace Lutheran to the raspy laugh of Ms. Tonie, the coordinator for the evening. Her big personality seems to be both world-weary and optimistic at once, and she made all of the volunteers feel right at home. We set up plates and warmed rolls, putting the finishing touches on dinner while waiting for the guests to arrive.

vo2 015

We served dinner, handing out seconds on chicken and the delicious greens brought by Ms. Tonie’s mother. Guests and volunteers chatted and ate, and joked about the food and the weather. Marcus introduces himself with the beaded wares he sells, and explains to the unfamiliar about the work of other groups that support the homeless in Memphis, like Manna House and H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality). Octavius reminds me of my brother, long and lanky and mischievous. He and his buddy Antonio are quite the pair, and have me laughing at stories of their escapades and hijinks all night. Keith is a flower seller, and he gives me his last rose, since I’m the youngest volunteer. We might need to look into whether Keith needs glasses.

Antonio, Keith, Kari, and Sarah

Antonio, Keith, Kari, and Sarah

vo2 016

Keith and Me

vo2 020

Antonio, Me, and Octavius

Marcus displays his wares

Marcus displays his wares

Guests excuse themselves upstairs to shower, where Ms. Tonie has laid out fresh towels, underwear, and socks next to little bags of soaps and shampoos, and come back to the tables, eager to rejoin the lively conversation for a little while before they give into the siren song of clean sheets and warm blankets upstairs.

It is communion, in the truest sense of the word.

Who could have a problem with that?

 

 

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.

————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
————————————————————————————————————————————
————————————————————————————————————————————