Volunteer Venture for '08 ... Downtown Hamilton
Although I start thinking about my January Volunteer effort as soon as I arrive home from the current one, plans typically do not solidify until Christmas time. This past December, I was doing my usual research but with finances being short I knew I couldn't do anything costly. I had already turned down an opportunity to head to Africa knowing I had more time & energy than money to invest so I then looked into staying with friends & working at a soup kitchen in Denver. One day in
the midst of this search, Joe & I were working at our annual Good Shepherd Day with the Knights of Columbus. Good Shepherd Centres is located in nearby Hamilton, Ontario & 'their mission is to serve the poor, vulnerable & less fortunate'. As I volunteered that day with the Christmas hampers, I took notice ... paying attention & asking a lot of questions to learn more about the services provided by GSC. Right then, I had my plan. I discussed it with Nicole, the Coordinator of Volunteers & with her help my 'week' schedule was set. Sunday, January 13th, I got on a train, then bus & headed 35 kilometres west to the nearby city where I was born & Joe grew up. Although I could have easily commuted each day, I wanted it to feel like any other 'venture' ... I'm on my own, out of my normal rythm & routine & able to experience the city with a sidewalk view. I had booked in to stay at the YWCA for the week & was
pleasantly suprised when I checked in. There was my room, last door on the right at the end of the hallway complete with comfortable bed, desk, chair, closet & a window I could open to hear the sounds of the city streets ... & it was clean.
Living dorm style for the week meant I had to time my evening liquid intake because I wasn't wanting to make that long haul trek to the washroom for my usual mid-night pee. It also meant that with limited resources (my own cooking abilities) that my evening meal was usually a bowl of 2 packs of oatmeal ... at least I knew cholesterol was low. It didn't take long for me to meet many of the women on the floor. Being the new face, some were keen to welcome me while others kept their distance. I quickly learned who was open to chatting, who kept to themselves & what roles each of them played in the mix of personalities. I enjoyed this part because it is a rare opportunity to 'live' with a group of women. I loved seeing the support they showed each other as well as was entertained by the silly squabbles that seemed to occur daily among them. By my second day, I had embraced the common rythym of the floor, walking the hallways if not in my pyjamas, at least without a bra, watching mindless TV while checking in with whoever was interested in sharing 'their day' with me. I learned that some of the 'women at the Y' have lived there for 30 years, some never leave the floor while others head out each day to work, volunteer or go to school. I loved the mix.
By the time I left the floor each morning, few were even awake but I knew that by the time the 'Pool Side Cafe' opened on the lower level, the regulars would be there to enjoy breakfast with. I would then hit the sidewalk weaving in & out of smoke filled pockets & bus waiting crowds. My walk each morning was about 20 minutes. I trudged along altering my route each day trying to get the feel for the downtown core. This was an area that I experienced regularly as a child with my Mom. We would visit from Thorold to do two things ... visit relatives & shop. My Mom felt the best shoe stores were downtown, not to mention some of her favourite shops like Eame's, The Right House, Robinson's & Eaton's. Then, those downtown streets were alive with lots of activity, downtown noise & energy ... & now it is just depressing. Aside from the decorative features like bright mini lights on the trees in Gore park, the embedded street names at each corner in the cement at your feet & the beautiful black iron overhang that welcomes you to the 'downtown' core, the area is on its' last breath. Boarded up storefronts, empty buildings & scattered evidence of apathy. Although disappointed by the downtown, not once did I feel threatened by those who loitered & lingered, nor was I ever approached for money ... unlike other cities I have visited.
Each morning I would check in at a different service that Nicole had arranged. This not only allowed me to experience a sampling of the many service GSC offer, but also to meet with wonderful groups of volunteers who make it all happen. I have a lot in common with these people ... they are there because they want to be there & they can be there. Each is passionately committed to their service & prepared to work as hard as is necessary to meet the demands of the day. No one complains, no one loafs & no one hangs around waiting for applause. It was a pleasure working with these people. I got to sample various components of services provided to anyone who needs them. I prepared & served meals, sorted food in the wharehouse, filled orders in the food bank, monitored shoppers in the clothing store, helped out in the main office ... the jobs were varied & yes some tasks were more arduous than others, but I did get to see & learn about he operations of this great organization.
By the end of the week, I was exhausted but I was happy. I was blessed to have the opportunity to step outside my own realities at home in Oakville. I was welcomed & allowed to be a part of an interesting collection of women at the Y, a troubled population on the city streets, a hard working crew of volunteers, keenly dedicated staff at GSC & the appreciative recipients of the services. I did not have to travel far from home to have my eyes & heart opened with this new experience. The tag line of GSC, became my mantra for the week & will hopefully be the carry over lesson I will now live with ... 'Faith In People'.
Thank you Hamilton ~!!~
There are many more volunteer events I am involved in, click on these links to learn more:
- Building A Church in Belize
- Red Nose Campaign
- New Orleans ... Habitat for Humanity
- Volunteer Venture for '08 ... Downtown Hamilton
- Give it up ...
Community Fundraisers … each year, I choose to speak to 10 local groups as a volunteer. To qualify … your ‘group' must be in the Oakville-Burlington area, must involve volunteers & or be a fundraiser of some kind. Think you might fit into this category … contact me today. Check out the community groups that heard my presentations this past year.
Last but not least, to share with you, I Volunteer poem.