Category Archives: Volunteer Profiles

MLK Service Day

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King

In honor of Dr. King, Board member Beth Damsgaard-Rodriguez helped organize a special interfaith service day at Room at the Inn on January 16.

“It was a wonderful gathering of interfaith volunteers with Teen Leaders from the Monsanto Family YMCA, members of The Center for Indian Cultural Education – Bal Vihar of St. Louis, and youth representing at least four faith groups — Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Christian — were present,” explains Beth. “Since Room at the Inn has an interfaith approach to social justice ministry, it seemed like a perfect place to serve on Martin Luther King Day.”

The day began with a presentation, followed by several discussions that explored what each faith teaches about serving, judging a person by their content of character and social justice.

“Room at the Inn has a multi-level approach to the complex issue of homelessness which is necessary for someone to become self-reliant again,” says Beth. “We talked about the importance of serving ‘our neighbors’ in St. Louis County and not just in the city. Our ‘neighbor in need’ can literally be right next door and we may not even know it.”

Following the discussion, Site Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew organized the volunteers into small groups for the service portion of the day. The tasks included cleaning mattresses, organizing toys and creating care packages for new clients.

The day concluded with another discussion about what it means to serve our neighbors and how it relates to Dr. King’s dream of equality. Beth feels it is important to keep exploring the interfaith component of that message.

“Dr. King said, ‘anyone can be great because everyone can serve.’ We are all neighbors and we have to work together to make society better for all,” Beth says. “We have to expose ourselves to other faiths, other cultures and our neighbors to make Dr. King’s dream a reality. We still have a long way to go, which is why we were so glad to be able to spend a day in service at Room at the Inn.”

The Magis Men Visit Room at the Inn

On Thursday, January 26, the Magis Men of De Smet Jesuit High School paid a visit to Room at the Inn.

“’Magis’ is a Latin term the Jesuits use that means ‘more,’” explains Dr. Donna Noonan, guidance counselor and moderator of the De Smet Jesuit club. “The whole point of the Magis Men is not doing more but being more.”

The club started about nine years ago when a group of students came to Donna wanting to do extra service in the community beyond the required service each student must complete prior to graduation. Their goal is to pick a different organization to serve each month and do whatever they can do to help the organization and their clients. The Magis Men have participated in the Make-A-Wish Foundation carnival and walk, the Halloween carnival for Friends of Kids with Cancer and the Soloman Project, a north St. Louis City neighborhood restoration effort that works with Sts. Terese and Bridget Parish.

“Every month, the students plan out and decide where they would like to volunteer.  We look at what our faith needs are in the community and we often go through Catholic Charities to select organizations,” says Donna. “I went to the Archdiocesan site to look for service opportunities, found Room at the Inn and the students picked it as one of the places they wanted to serve this month.”

A group of Magis Men, facilitated by Donna, spent the afternoon at Room at the Inn visiting with clients, playing with the children and cleaning the shelter. They also brought desserts to enjoy before the clients were transported to the respective night site.  Before the club visits an organization, Donna sits down with them to discuss the clients being served and what skills and strengths each student may have to offer.  After each visit, Donna asks the students what their expectations and impressions were of the experience.

“The students always express to me the gratitude they feel at being able to serve,” says Donna. “There was a fifteen-year-old boy who had recently come to Room at the Inn and one of the De Smet students spent a lot of time just talking to him one-on-one. He expressed how hard it must be for a teenager to be in that situation and was glad he was able listen to the boy’s story and offer encouragement.”

Members of the Magis Men do not receive credit or points for being in the club. The students do it “just because” and many continue to do community service in college and beyond.

“De Smet’s motto is a man for others and these boys truly live it,” says Donna proudly of her students. “They often say to me, ‘I got more than I thought I gave today.’ That says it all.”

Practicum Students Welcome

With each new semester, Room at the Inn is blessed with returning and new practicum student volunteers.

Site Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew recently held the first formal orientation meeting with the students.

“The orientation component is new to our practicum program,” explains Melanie. “Not only does it give us an opportunity to define what tasks the students will be doing at Room at the Inn, but also gives the Room and Development staff an opportunity to explain their roles at the shelter and how the volunteer can help them.”

Melanie has insight into the expectations practicum students have when volunteering at Room at the Inn; she recently went through the program as a student at Florissant Valley Community College. She is using that insight to enhance the experience of current students.

“In addition to interacting with the clients, students have opportunities to attend provider meetings, housing meetings and visit area food banks with the shelter staff,” says Melanie. “Room at the Inn’s Grant Writer, Gil Weyhaupt, can even introduce a student to the grant writing process if they are interested.”

In addition to working with volunteers at the day site, Melanie also makes presentations to students at the local community colleges about the intern opportunities at Room at the Inn. Melanie currently has 23 volunteers and will continue to accept more as long as there is a need at the shelter. One of the volunteer tasks she is focusing on is teaching computer skills to clients so they can search and apply for jobs online.  Melanie offers this advice to any practicum student considering an internship at Room at the Inn.

“If you have a desire to make a difference, a desire to help and to serve others, then Room at the Inn in the place for you,” says Melanie with a smile.  “I never want to turn a volunteer away because they could have a particular skill that would really help our clients.”

That volunteer could be you! Click here to find out more about the many opportunities there are to help the homeless in your community or contact Melanie directly at (314) 209-9181 x110.

Santa’s Visit Bring Joy and Wonder

On Friday, December 23, Santa Claus made a very special visit to Room at the Inn!

Jingle bells joyfully signaled his arrival as Santa came through the door to greet the children. With Mrs. Claus by his side, Santa sat down and talked with the children. Calling them each by name, jolly St. Nick passed out presents for every child and mother.  He posed for pictures, shared smiles and hugs before heading back to the North Pole.

“It was such a great experience for the kids,” says Client Coordinator Angie Hamilton. “They were just so   excited. He had about five gifts per child and knew all their names. He even had gifts for the moms. The expressions on the children’s faces were priceless. It was very touching.”

This is the second year Lee Schmidt has volunteered to be Santa for Room at the Inn. Lee works with Board Chair David Renaud at Magellan Health Services, which is how he learned about the shelter.

“Lee thoroughly enjoys playing Santa for the children,” says David. “He’s just that kind of fella. He does a lot of volunteer coordination for the community through Magellan Health Services, but this is something he does on his own. He inspired others in his department, the Claim Interface Team, and they worked together to provide the gifts. It’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about.”

We thank Lee and Mary Lynn Schmidt for volunteering their time and for bringing the gifts of wonder and joy to the hearts of the children. To see more photos of Santa’s visit, please visit our Facebook page at

If your New Year’s resolutions include volunteering, please visit our website at to find out about the many volunteer opportunities we have at Room at the Inn.

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