When we’re putting in 40 hours a week at work, it’s hard to squeeze in even a couple hours to heed the call to give back. However, once our 9-to-5 days are over, it’s time to listen to our heart and go where it leads us.
Below we talk to Linda, a 70-year-old former banker, about how she put her giving spirit to good use in her Eastern Shore community.
SG: What made you decide to volunteer at a homeless shelter?
Linda: While I was still working, I participated in “Days of Caring” through my employer, primarily volunteering at the local food bank. For 12 years I was also affiliated with Habitat for Humanity as a member of the Board of Directors and eventually serving as treasurer, vice president and president. While networking in the volunteer community, I met the founder and executive director of Halo (Hope and Life Outreach). I promised her that when I wasn’t so involved with Habitat, I would volunteer at Halo. Last year, part of the teaching of the Bible study with which I was involved was how God expects us to always help those less fortunate than ourselves. During that time, I felt that the Lord was tapping me on the shoulder saying, “It’s time to go to Halo.”
SG: During the four or five hours a week that you are at Halo, specifically what do you do?
Linda: We store any bags or packages guests are bringing in, and if they are wearing a coat, we search the pockets for any items that aren’t permitted. However, my favorite duty is doing intake of new guests. I fill out an information document with them and go over the rules, expectations, services and benefits available to them. Afterward, I give them a tour of the facility. During this process, so many of them want to tell me their story, and I listen for as long as they want to talk!
SG: Can you share one of these stories?
Linda: One of our guests, who had slept on the street for much of the two years he has been homeless, told me about losing his job, his home and his family and going into a deep, deep depression. He finally sought some medical help and is now slowly coming out of his dark place. He was thrilled to be able to take a shower and have three meals a day and a clean bed to sleep in that night. He kept thanking me for my interest and kindness.
SG: Obviously you, and Halo, have a huge impact on these people’s lives. What impact have they had on yours?
First of all, I feel so very blessed (and somewhat guilty) that I have so much and they have so little. The only difference between me and them is that I have been blessed with mental health plus family and friends who have been a support for me all of my life. Our guests have taught me to be thankful for these blessings every single day.
This experience has also made me look at homelessness so much differently. In the past, if I’d given a homeless person money and they used it to buy liquor, I would’ve been disgusted. Through my work here, I’ve learned that sometimes alcohol and drugs are their only way of coping with their circumstances. Now I just pray that they find enough comfort and peace in their lives to walk away from that form of self-medication.
I also hope that the people I work with at Halo find the strength and ability to become a productive part of the community. Unfortunately, I know that this is impossible for some of our guests, and for them, I pray for God’s protection. Perhaps most importantly, I want the precious children in the shelter to find a way to break the cycle of homelessness.
SG: How would you sum up your experience at Halo?
Linda: Our guests have taught me to slow down and listen, because that means more than talking. They’ve given me the gift of more patience, tolerance, compassion and understanding than I believe I’ve ever had. That’s a blessing!!