[Pictured: Martina Turner (staff), Timothy McIntosh (consumer) and Deborah Brouse (board & volunteer) congregate after Friendship Place’s first ever memorial service, remembering Friendship Place community members lost in the past year.]
By Guest Blogger Deborah Brouse, Board Member & Volunteer
I’ve been a front desk volunteer at Friendship Place for almost 3 years now, so believe me when I say that there’s a new feel to the Welcome Center these days. It has always been a friendly, helpful environment, but the feeling of community has deepened as people who initially came in to access services now participate in running the place.
This transformation began when three Welcome Center “regulars” who came in for things like coffee, food, mail, laundry, and help finding a job started to take on defined volunteer roles. Other visitors took note that staff worked with these men as partners – not just recipients of services. The volunteers seemed to like their “jobs,” regularly cleaning the center, organizing and replenishing supplies, picking up donations, answering phones, and assisting the staff. They assumed a kind of status in the community, and soon others began to pitch in when something needed to be done. Now more consumers than ever are officially designated as volunteers.
Friendship Place consumers are evolving into Friendship Place participants, in what has been a gradual process. At one time, people who visited the Welcome Center were routinely called “clients,” a term that connotes passively receiving services, and some years back, representatives of that group asked to be called “consumers,” a term implying more active engagement. A Consumer Council advises service delivery at the Friendship Place Welcome Center, and a second Consumer Council now advises our Neighbors First program.
I have been impressed with the way Friendship Place involves homeless and recently homeless people in all aspects of its work. Since staff, board members, and volunteers who have never been homeless participate side by side with consumer volunteers in so many activities, it is natural to think of everybody as community participants.
The truth of this observation was very evident to me when we held a memorial service for a number of community members we had lost over the past few years—staff, board members, volunteers, and consumers. All were named in a single list, which represents the “oneness” they all shared by choosing to be part of a trusting, comforting, welcoming and supportive community. During the part of the service when anyone could come to the podium and offer a remembrance of someone lost, a very diverse group of individuals came forward to offer memories of equally diverse friends lost. It felt like a warm, caring community, despite differences in backgrounds, experiences and lives—and that’s what Friendship Place is all about.