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A Volunteer’s Story

April 26, 2011

To wrap up Volunteer Appreciation Month, we have a special guest blogger today. Molly Cohen has been a dedicated overnight volunteer, spending over 35 nights in the past year at Calvary Women’s Shelter and Pathways. Molly will be moving out of DC soon, which unfortunately means her time at Calvary is coming to an end. She will be sorely missed, both by Calvary’s staff and the women at our programs. But before she moves on, Molly wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on what she’s learned during her time as an overnight volunteer…

Almost every Thursday night, I arrive at the doors of Calvary or Pathways exhausted from the daily grind and hoping the night will be quiet and uneventful, the phone won’t ring too often, and I’ll get my precious seven hours of sleep. Every Friday morning – whether the night was quiet or hectic — I leave the shelter tired but totally jazzed. My experience as an overnight volunteer has been exciting, overwhelming, exhausting, uplifting and humbling (in that order). What I do at the shelter is not so different from what I’d do on a normal day: I watch TV/news with the residents, go to sleep, wake up, make breakfast and do dishes. In between those core activities, I do some odd jobs: answering phones, letting people in and out for smoke breaks, distributing medicine.

Coming in every week or every other week gives me a funny perspective on the shelter and the residents. From one week to the next, a resident may have completely changed – she may have a new haircut, a new pair of sneakers, or an entirely new look. She may have gotten a job or reconnected with family or found a new apartment. The progress of the residents to me looks like a game of leapfrog. I see only results and not the day-to-day struggle and the constant support of the staff.

I have no knowledge or expertise that I can provide as a volunteer, so instead I give my time. This feels fitting, because I believe the greatest gift that Calvary provides to its residents is time. Time enough to take a breath, to recharge, and to prepare again for independent living. Residents arrive at Calvary due to a myriad of circumstances – spiraling issues of health, concerns over safety and financial problems. Each resident has a different story, but I believe a common factor in all of them, is lack of time coupled with lack of options.

Calvary provides time to allow women to build relationships, to focus on themselves, to learn new life skills and ultimately to make informed decisions. Each resident is given personalized care, with time set aside to speak with case managers, health professionals. I have watched case managers stay late to help someone with an issue; I have seen busy residents take time out of their nights or morning to support each other or defuse a tense situation. I myself have stayed up with women at night when they can’t sleep, just sitting and listening.

Every week, I see women in flux – not just new residents coming in – but existing residents redefining themselves and their lives. Let’s be honest: the world moves fast. Calvary provides its residents the luxury of time – time to figure out what they want and how to go get it. Time and tools to achieve their goals. As a volunteer, I can’t give much to Calvary, but I am proud to be one of the many who gives my time.

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2 Comments
  1. April 26, 2011 4:20 pm

    What an inspiring story. The story makes me want to volunteer soon.

  2. Allison permalink
    April 26, 2011 4:38 pm

    Well said, Molly! Sometimes those uplifting and humbling feelings are so strong, I feel like I’m getting more out of the overnight than I put in. After a while the residents become an extension of our own families: we get to share the same joy when someone has a new job or visits loved ones. I wonder if they realize how much we benefit from staying there.

    Best of luck wherever you’re heading now!

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