Category Archives: Volunteer Profiles

Night Site Coordinator Receives Ruby Award

“Homelessness does not define who you are or what you are. Homelessness is just the circumstances you are in at a particular time in your life,” says Jacqueline Proctor.

Jacqueline, a member of John Knox Presbyterian Church in Florissant, has been the Room at the Inn night site coordinator at her congregation for nearly seven years. Her late husband, Roger, served as a driver and all around helper before he passed away two years ago. Other devoted night site volunteers from John Knox Presbyterian Church include Elly Cummings, Pearl Rogers, Jan Mount, Bob Palmer (their faithful driver), Jeremy Jordon, Dale Williams, Barb and Russ Marty and Everett and Marlene Marquadt.

“They are a great team to work with,” says Jacqueline proudly. “The entire congregation is very supportive of the program. The children’s ministry sometimes makes treats for Room clients, the janitor cleans and prepares our fellowship hall, and even the homebound members of the church will bake desserts. I enjoy cooking and I always want Room’s clients to have a warm, home cooked meal when they are with us.”

Jacqueline was nominated for and recently received the Ruby Award from Soroptimist International of Greater St. Louis. Soroptimist means “best for women.” The Ruby Award recognizes women in the community who have, in some way, contributed to women’s issues, social justice matters, or health, and education services for women. She received the award recently at a dinner with more than 300 people in attendance. Friends, neighbors and members of her church surprised Jacqueline by attending this special event in her honor.

As part of this award, Jacqueline received a $300 donation to be given to the charity of her choice. Because of her work as night site coordinator, she chose Room at the Inn.

“The donation is such a kind gesture,” says Program Director Valorie Ferlis. “We truly appreciate Jacqueline’s commitment and generosity to Room. She is a wonderful example of how one person can truly make a difference in their community through volunteerism.”

Called to Volunteer

A routine trip to the Bridgeton Post Office for Client Coordinator Angie Hamilton became a volunteer opportunity for Yolanda King. Angie has picked up the mail at that location for years, which Yolanda would periodically put in the PO Box.

“I would see the name ‘Room at the Inn’ when I would handle the mail and wonder what it was. One day, I saw Angie picking up the mail so I asked her what it was,” recalls Yolanda. “When Angie told me about the shelter and gave me the contact information, I felt God was calling me to volunteer. It was very heartfelt moment and I knew this was where I needed to be.”

Yolanda (pictured right with Angie) recently retired from her clerk position at the Post Office and started volunteering at Room at the Inn. She volunteers about six hours a week, but is planning on volunteering more.

“Yolanda helps me with data entry and client paperwork, which is much needed,” says Angie. “It’s been wonderful to have her here.”

Another current Room volunteer, Betty Smith-Williams, also felt as if she was called to serve at our shelter. Betty is a practicum student at Forest Park Community College and when she saw Room was listed as a practicum site, she knew it was a sign.

“My church, Immanuel Lutheran Chapel, was a night site for many years. At that time in my life, I wasn’t available to volunteer but I wanted to,” says Betty.  “I really feel as if the Lord is placing me at Room at the Inn for a reason.”

Betty currently works at Mercy Hospital (formerly St. John’s Mercy) as an operations assistant and has been around patient care for many years.  She decided to pursue a degree in human services after a close family member entered a nursing home and she saw first-hand how important compassionate care was to both the patient and their families. Betty will be volunteering a total of 150 hours this semester for her associate degree and her tasks include playing with the children, sorting donations, clerical work and assisting the staff.

“Betty is so good with the children,” says Program Director Val Ferlis. “Because she comes in the afternoon, she also helps the clients get ready to go to the night sites.”

The time Betty spends with the children gives their moms the opportunity to job search and work on other goals during their stay. She enjoys interacting with the clients because she feels it is important they know people in the community do care about the homeless and their situation.

“I have always been an advocate for volunteering. I encouraged my children when they were younger to volunteer because there is always someone who needs help,” explains Betty. “If you have the time or the opportunity to volunteer, it can be a very meaningful experience.”

If you feel called to volunteer, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew at 314-209-9181 or by email at mmatthew@divineprovidencesisters.org to learn about our many volunteer opportunities.

Teaching Computer Skills to Clients

“It’s wonderful to help people,” says practicum student Richard May.

Following eight-years of service in the Air Force, Richard spent 11 years working for Procter and Gamble in St. Louis, Mo. After taking a buyout just two months before 9-11, Richard realized he needed a degree to compliment his experience and skill set.

“I found I was either over qualified or under qualified when submitting applications for employment,” recalls Richard. “I have always enjoyed helping people go beyond what they think they can do so I decided it was time to go back to school.”

In January 2009, Richard enrolled at Florissant Valley Community College and will be graduating in May 2012 with a degree in human services. He has already been accepted at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, where he will complete his bachelor degree in social work in the next two years.

As part of his practicum, Richard started volunteering at Room at the Inn. This past September, he began working in the computer room teaching clients, with and without computer experience, how to write a resume, search and apply for jobs online and manage an email account. It took a while for the clients to open up to the idea that Richard could help them obtain a job, but eventually they did and the results speak for themselves.

“When I came to Room at the Inn, I was computer illiterate. In my 30 days here, Richard has taught me how to use the computer for job searches,” says Erma, a current client. “He’s a great teacher and by following this program, I have two interviews coming up and I know more are on the way. The time spent with him in the computer room was well worth it. I know I will find a job.”

Richard is currently putting together a computer operation manual for the staff and future practicum students to use so the program can continue after he leaves. The manual will help clients do everything from turning on the computer, resume creation, email set-up and online job searches. Richard has truly enjoyed working on this program and watching clients gain confidence in what they can accomplish in just 30 days. He also offers this advice for other practicum students volunteering at Room.

“Be prepared to give your all. Don’t come here thinking ‘I have to do these hours for school,’” says Richard. “Once you reach out and make contact with the clients, they rely on you for help so don’t let them down. If you put your heart into it, you will be surprised at the happiness you will receive in return. I love volunteering here. I really do.”

Do you have time to volunteer? Like Richard, you can help clients find employment, which helps them break the cycle of homelessness. Please contact Site Volunteer Melanie Matthew at 314-209-9198 to find out what volunteer opportunities await you!

Crochet and Crafts Provide Relaxation

“It’s a change of pace. It’s something relaxing,” says Sue Eckhoff.

Affectionately known as “The Craft Lady,” Sue volunteers on Tuesday mornings at Room at the Inn. She teaches the clients how to crochet and works on other craft projects with them. Sue first started volunteering at one of the night sites, Holy Name of Jesus. Since the clients enjoyed her crochet classes so much, Sue decided to volunteer at the day site, too.

“The women need something else to think about, to laugh about and to work on,” explains Sue. “Crochet and crafts can provide a peaceful respite from the stress they are dealing with.”

This isn’t the first time Sue has volunteered her “crafty” time and talents. She formerly taught crochet to the women incarcerated at the St. Louis “workhouse,” a medium-security jail on Hall Street, for almost three years.

“Oh, we had a good time at the workhouse! We’d get started, put the radio on and the women would be crocheting and singing. Sometimes, they’d even get up and dance,” Sue recalls. “When the supervisor changed, my class was discontinued because he thought the women were having too much fun!”

Besides crochet, Sue has a variety of other projects she does with the clients including colorful tissue flowers, baby blankets and ‘God’s Eye’ yarn crafts.  During the winter, several of the clients made scarves and hats. The yarn is donated to Sue by St. Rose Phillipine Duchesne Church; she purchases the crochet needles and other supplies needed. She teaches her students to single crochet, double crochet and how to read a pattern and the abbreviations.

“The clients gladly welcome Sue and share in the crafts with her at no coaxing from staff,” says Program Director Joann Nowak, O.S.F. “That speaks of Sue’s gentle spirit that enriches them and of their hunger to be creative and productive.”

Sue offers these words of encouragement for anyone thinking about volunteering at Room at the Inn.

“Just put it in God’s hands. If it’s meant to be, you will get an answer to your prayers,” Sue says. “Things fall into place when it’s meant to be.”

We welcome volunteers of all ages, with all kinds of talents! Please contact Site Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew at 314-209-9181 x110 to find out more and to match your skills and time availability to the shelter’s needs.

Longtime Educator Becomes Volunteer

“It is a joy for me to work with the children,” says Sister Elizabeth Merkel, DC.

Sister Elizabeth, 82, has been volunteering at Room at the Inn for just over a year. Born and raised in St. Louis, she was first introduced to the Daughters of Charity when she attended Laboure High School. While a student there, she joined the Legion of Mary, which required two hours of service each week. She began volunteering at a nearby orphanage, helping out the Sisters and working with children, which she enjoyed immensely. Sister Elizabeth attributes her vocation to her time spent there and at 17, she entered the Daughters of Charity Community.

After completing her seminary training, Sister Elizabeth began her teaching ministry. During the summers, she attended college and eventually earned bachelor and master degrees in education. Sister Elizabeth taught mostly primary education and served as a principal twice in her 62 years as an educator. She taught in Missouri, California, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Maryland schools sponsored by the Daughters of Charity.  When she returned to St. Louis following her long teaching career, Sister Elizabeth still wanted to work with children. Since Room at the Inn is close to home, she decided it was the perfect place to volunteer.

“I started coming one day a week, but now I’m up to two!” she exclaims with a big smile. “I mostly play with the children to help give the mothers a break. I am working with alphabet letters now and want to start them on short and long vowel sounds, too. The five-year-olds are ready for some phonics!”

Room at the Inn’s Child Therapist Kira Williams stresses the importance of play therapy in working with the children. By building a rapport and relationship with the kids, it gives them the opportunity to talk or not talk about what is going on. She recognizes the positive influence volunteers like Sister Elizabeth can have on children.

“Just the idea of giving your time and attention to a child makes the world of difference. It can help reverse negative social development and self-esteem issues,” Kira explains. “Just spending time and giving them attention, eye contact and even a hug can make a big difference. Theses things seem small but they can make a very big difference in a homeless child’s life.”

There are over 18,000 Daughters of Charity living and working in over 90 countries. The Daughters dedicate their lives to caring for those who are forgotten, marginalized and deprived all over the world. In all their ministries, the Daughters of Charity find the face of Christ in the people they serve. They spend their lives bringing Christ’s love to their neighbors.

“It’s a wonderful life … such a wonderful life,” says Sister Elizabeth of her vocation.

We welcome volunteers of all ages, with all kinds of talents! Please contact Site Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew at 314-209-9181 x110 to find out more and to match your skills and time availability to the shelter’s needs.

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