Category Archives: Volunteer Profiles

Helping on Two Continents

“Based on my 25 years in public affairs as a teacher and administrator in my native country of Kenya, I chose the field of Human Services in order that I may help the underprivileged,” says practicum student Nelson Kamari.

After Nelson retired, he could no longer care for his four high school-aged boys.  He wanted a career that would give him the opportunity to not only work with the underprivileged, but to provide a better life for himself and his children.  Nelson, a widower, moved to the United States in search of that opportunity.

Nelson has lived in the United States for 13 years.  During that time, he has worked as a certified nurse’s assistant for several nursing homes and as a custodian.  Currently, he works for Ameristar Casino and Doubletree Hotel in Westport.

Because of his challenging work schedule and the need to provide for his family while attending school this summer, Nelson found it difficult to secure a practicum site flexible enough to accommodate his busy schedule.

“I called several other sites, but they weren’t accepting students at the associate degree level,” recalls Nelson. “I was so grateful that Room at the Inn was able to take me.”

Nelson serves as an overnight innkeeper on the nights clients stay at the day shelter.  He also assists the clients with their day-to-day activities and individual goal expectations required by our program.  Nelson also helps the staff by searching on the internet for job opportunities and housing opportunities for clients.

“The most important service Nelson provides for Room is that he opens his heart to the wonderful clients that reside at Room at the Inn,” says Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew.

Nelson is currently enrolled at the St. Louis Community College’s Florissant Valley campus.  He plans to graduate in the fall with his Associates Degree in Human Services.

“My main goal for being at Room is not just to get my hours to complete my degree,” says Nelson.  “I want to help the clients be better than what they were before I met them.”

Students interested in providing volunteer service or a possible practicum placement at Room at the Inn should contact Melanie at 314-209-9198 or

5th Graders Put Their Faith into Action

“Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with compassion into the world.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila

The 5th grade class at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kirkwood put their “faith into action” by taking the words of St. Teresa to heart through a mission project to help the homeless. Because their church is a one of our night sites, the students chose to focus their efforts on the children served by Room at the Inn. The teachers and the mothers of the 5th graders worked with Program Director Valorie Ferlis on coordinating the project.

“The students made pillows and collected items such as pajamas and socks for the ‘comfy kits’ they put together for our young clients,” explains Valorie. “I also went to the school on April 12 to give a short presentation and bring them little house banks so they also could do a special collection. I encouraged them to do an extra chore or something to earn money themselves to donate because even a dollar or two can help a homeless child in a big way.”

Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew came up with the idea of assembling the “comfy kits.”

“The ‘comfy kits’ can be very reassuring to children when they arrive at Room. Children often times feel a bit uneasy when they come to our shelter. By giving them one of our ‘comfy kits,’ we can help put them at ease and make them feel welcome by providing some needed items that are just for them. It usually puts a big smile on their faces and anything we can do to make them feel better is worth the effort,” states Melanie.

On Tuesday, April 23, the entire 5th grade class took a field trip to visit Room’s day site and tour the facility. They spent the morning in service by cleaning and sanitizing toys in the playroom, sorting and restocking shelves in the storage area and rolling the coins from the banks. Together, the class managed to raise $200 to help Room’s children. Teresa Stoeckel, one of the 5th grade mothers who accompanied the class on the field trip, feels the mission project will have a lasting impact on the students.

“Kids don’t always think they can do a lot to help with big issues like homelessness, but they can,” says Teresa. “By creating the ‘comfy kits,’ taking up the collection and spending the morning in service, they have learned there is something very tangible they can do to make a difference in their community. It is also important to teach them about volunteering now so they will look for similar opportunities in the future.”

The volunteer experience has definitely made an impression on the students.

“I learned today that there are a lot more kids than adults who are homeless and that some people sleep in their cars because they don’t have anywhere to go,” says Matthew, who helped clean the playroom. “It’s nice to help people and it’s kind of fun!”

“I learned if you have a chance to help others, you should,” says Alison, who helped sort donations. “Helping out makes me feel good. I will probably volunteer in the future.”

Some of the students expressed interest in the night site program at St. Peter’s and asked Valorie what volunteer opportunities there are for kids on the nights they host.

“There are so many things kids can do at the night sites to help our young clients,” says Valorie. “They can prepare a special snack, help with homework or simply play a game with the kids to make them feel welcome and ‘at home’ in their church. These simple acts of kindness can mean so much to a child who is homeless … and their parents, too!”

Do you know of a class who would be interested in planning a similar mission project for Room? Contact Program Director Valorie Ferlis or Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew at 314-209-9198 or by email here to learn more!

A Special Collection for Room

Nine-year-old Natasha Theusch is proof that anyone, at any age, can make a difference. Natasha and her mother, Amy, are members of Central Reform Congregation (CRC), which has served as a Room at the Inn night site since 2010. Natasha told her mother she wanted to something for tikkun olam.  Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world” (or “healing the world”) which suggests it is humanity’s shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world.

“Natasha said to me one day, ‘All the grown-ups get to help people, but what can kids do?’” recalls Amy. “Together, we looked at CRC’s website to learn about the organizations where we were involved. When we visited Room at the Inn’s website and saw who they helped, we knew it was the one.”

Natasha decided to take up a collection for Room by going door to door around her neighborhood. She spent an entire evening decorating a special shoebox for the donations. Amy prepared bullet points for Natasha to take with her that explained Room’s mission and who they serve.  Natasha went out after school to collect the donations.

“It made me feel good to help other people,” says Natasha proudly. “You feel good about yourself when you can do something for someone else.”

Instead of mailing in the donation, Natasha wanted to give the money in person to the shelter. Program Director Valorie Ferlis was excited about meeting Natasha and showing her what Room does.

“I took Natasha and her mom on a brief tour of the facility so she could see what her donation would be used for,” says Val. “Since she was able to visit us in the afternoon, she could also see what the families do as they prepare to go to night sites like CRC. We are all so grateful and proud of Natasha for being such a wonderful example of how someone can live out their faith and help their community.”

Natasha is also considering volunteering at CRC during one of their night site evenings.

“I learned there are things kids can do to help other kids who are homeless,” says Natasha. “I can play with the younger kids, help them with their homework or just hang out with them.”

We thank Natasha and her mother, Amy, for supporting Room at the Inn. If you are inspired by Natasha’s story and would like to volunteer at the day site or at any of our night site congregations, please contact Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Matthew at 314-209-9198 x110.

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