Category Archives: Volunteer Profiles

Shelter Volunteer Gives Moms a Break

Clare Duffy had love to give and time to spare.

So she contacted Room at the Inn about working with the children at the shelter. Actually, Clare spends more time playing than working. For the past two years, she has come to Room at the Inn every Friday morning to play and read with the youngest shelter residents.

“I see the need for mothers to have a break,” Clare said. “They need to go to meetings or attend a class. Or sometimes they just need a few minutes to themselves. I can give that to them.”

Clare understands what it means to be homeless. When she was six years old, her house burned down on Christmas Eve. Clare’s family – her widowed mother and four siblings – stayed for a few months at one grandparents’ house, then moved to another grandparents’ house, where they stayed for a year. So, while Clare always had a place to stay, she understands the anxiety children feel when they don’t have a permanent home. Looking back, she says, she now understands how difficult the situation must have been for the adults. That’s why she feels called to help both the adults and children who come to Room at the Inn.

“I just can’t imagine not having the consistency of home,” she said.

Clare’s involvement in the social justice ministry in her parish prompted her to find a way to do something about poverty and homelessness. In addition to volunteering at Room at the Inn, she is now the co-site coordinator at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Maryland Heights, one of Room at the Inn’s newest night site partners.

Clare offers a quiet, loving presence to the children at Room at the Inn. Whether her charge for the day is a fussy infant or a rowdy eight-year-old – or a roomful of children – Clare displays patience and real joy in being with the children. Clare’s quiet ways speak boldly of the bible verse from Micah (6:8) that says “ … do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” We are blessed to have Clare and witness firsthand that she does justice, loves kindness and walks humbly with her God.

Above and Beyond

When you get to know people, you can find out-of-the-box ways to help …

At many of the congregations where Room at the Inn’s clients receive shelter, the volunteer hosts refer to the clients as “guests.” They also consider them friends, and even family. They genuinely care about these people who enter their lives, sometimes just for one night, and frequently find special ways to show just how much. Here’s a recent example:

Rhonda is 14, a little shy, wants to be an author and loves animals. Stephanie Sappington is outgoing, a Mom and loves making other people happy. So when Rhonda and her mother spent the night at Webster Groves Christian Church, Stephanie struck up a conversation and soon knew a lot about Rhonda. At the time, the church youth group was planning a mission trip to the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. Stephanie thought Rhonda could benefit from the experience, so she suggested to Pastor Jeff Moore that the congregation take Rhonda along. Rev. Dr. Moore thought it was a fabulous idea, so he spoke to Volunteer Coordinator Sister Stephanie Turck and Rhonda’s mother the very next day.

Both Rhonda and Delonda were thrilled, and the trip was arranged: Rhonda was a part of the 20-person group from Webster Groves Christian Church that spent a week at the Heifer Ranch.

“I told her to concentrate on having fun, not to worry about our situation,” said Delonda, who has been homeless for several months after being laid off from work. “I’m proud of her because that’s what she did! She had fun!”

Delonda felt comfortable sending Rhonda, because the volunteers at the church had been so welcoming and kind. “We really enjoyed ourselves at the church,” Delonda Howard, Rhonda’s mother, said. “We just fell in love with the volunteers.”

At the ranch, the group did team-building activities, went rock climbing, plowed fields, and learned about sustainable living. Rhonda’s favorite: working with the animals, especially giving the goats vaccinations.

Rhonda was introduced not as a Room at the Inn guest, but simply as “Stephanie’s friend.” The other young people accepted her immediately, and they all had an unforgettable experience together.

The following week, when Webster Groves was scheduled to host Room at the Inn guests again, one of the volunteers, Pat Roseman, decided to do something special for them (again). She called ahead and asked each of the guests what they would like to eat for dinner. Then the youth group got together to cook the food – and Rhonda was picked up early from the shelter to help as part of the group. When the other Room guests arrived, they were served all their favorite dishes by a group of glowing young people.

“This was an experience she never could have had otherwise,” Delonda noted with sincere gratitude. But for the volunteers at Webster Grove Christian Church, it was a simple matter of helping someone they care about.

Power of One

Thanks to a government class requirement, Haley Burch has learned many lessons … but not necessarily the lessons you might expect. Haley has learned the power of networking. She has learned that persistence pays off. She has learned not to take “no” for an answer. And she has learned that one person can make a difference.

Haley’s junior government class at Parkway North High School has a service requirement. Haley and her family had been volunteering at Room at the Inn since she began Hebrew School in the third grade. Haley called David Gerst, the night site coordinator at Shaare Emeth and asked if Room at the Inn had any particular needs that she could help address. He told her that there is always a need for night sites, so Haley made that her mission. She began calling people she knew at other congregations, trying to identify to whom to make her pitch. If she struck out with one person, she tried someone else. When she described Room at the Inn, she spoke with passion and enthusiasm.

Her efforts paid off: Central Reform Congregation will host as a night site for the first time in September. Haley downplays her role by saying, “I didn’t do much. I’m just a little spokesperson.” But for the clients who will be sheltered at CRC in September and every month in the future, Haley has made a difference.

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