It was a Sunday morning in September, and Bob and I had just finished serving breakfast on the final morning for the Hands of Faith families we hosted that week. The week had gone well; four families got along fine; no drama; no conflicts. I was saying the good byes and wishing them well as they were getting ready to leave. So it came as a surprise when one mom came up, said thank you, and gave me a hug; her teenage daughter followed suit. They both admitted they didn’t want to go to the next church, that they liked it here and they had had fun. I didn’t see it coming. It was like I hit a brick wall. I had no idea of the impact we, my volunteers, had on these guests this week. And at that moment it made me realize that Our Savior’s volunteers have continued to have a positive impact on so many of the guests we have hosted over the years.
These guests are people like you and me or someone we know. The dad gets injured on the job and the paychecks stop; their employer downsizes and they lose their job. They are families living paycheck to paycheck, and they are one paycheck away from losing everything.
Or they are separated from their husbands and have no means to continue living in their current home. Our Savior’s is that safe harbor where we provide a warm meal and a temporary place to rest their heads at night.
There are success stories with these families we house. With this last visit in September, one dad had just gotten a full-time job with benefits starting the night they left Our Savior’s. It won’t be long before he and his family will be able to leave the program.
A family we hosted in July is now out of the program; the mom is relieved and excited. She and her two children have a one-bedroom apartment in the church neighborhood. You could just tell a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. It is just one bedroom, but observing the mom I could sense that it seemed like a mansion. And the kids are doing great in school. This is a mom, separated from her husband, who lost her home, her car, her at-home job.
This same family was walking past the church in September, saw the Hands of Faith van in the parking lot, and stopped to see if I was there. Luckily I was. I was greeted (by name) with hugs and excitement from all three. This is the family who was invited to visit a pig farm because of James’ genuine interest in baby pigs. Jane had never extended an invitation like that in all her years helping with the Hands of Faith program. James and Mersadiez asked about Jane, they asked about Marlis, they asked about Steve. They remembered them all by name. It was this family who also said at the end of their week with us that they didn’t want to leave, that they wanted to stay here.
These families didn’t want to leave Our Savior’s; they wanted to stay with us; they had fun during their visit with us. Did we do anything special, out of the ordinary? I would say no we didn’t. We were just the kind-hearted, giving people that we are, and we simply extended that generosity to our guests.
These two recent families are a testament of the impact the volunteers here at Our Savior’s have on them. I’m sure not one of my Hands of Faith volunteers would say that they did something special for these families. But don’t underestimate the impact you have on these guests. I have the privilege to see what our volunteers do.
I see a volunteer who made a roast beef dinner with homemade rolls and homemade ice cream. It was a feast to our families, who made countless trips back for seconds and thirds. I see volunteers who brought a dessert and a birthday candle so a guest could celebrate her 16th birthday with strangers in the basement of a church. I see a volunteer getting on the floor helping put a US map puzzle together with a fourth grader, giving her a heads-up on the states and capitals. I see the volunteer who engages the kids and parents with a board game. I see the volunteer who brings her own crafts so the guests can make a necklace or trinket that they get to keep. I see the volunteer who brings in supplies so the kids can make Mother’s Day cards and see the excitement when they hand it to their mom.
I see the volunteer who engages each child in conversation, building up their self-confidence, offering positive reinforcement. I see the volunteer who gives piggyback rides to the kids as though they are his own. I see the volunteer who will go out and buy a water-proof mattress pad because we have a bed wetter. I see the volunteer who will help put together every puzzle we have and the volunteer who reads story after story. I see the volunteer who listens to the mom who needs to talk, to release the fear, the uncertainty, the embarrassment in her life right now. I see the mom who wipes away tears as she shares her story of how she got to this place in her life and how it has changed her life as she talks with a college student who is writing a paper on homelessness.
So on their final Sunday morning with us, as they strip the sheets from the 3-inch cot mattress and pack all their belongings in a garbage bag, these families will be fine. People are resilient; these temporary obstacles in their life will make them stronger.
So do we make an impact on these families? You bet we do! Ask the families who want to stay here at Our Savior’s another week. Ask the 8- and 9-year old who can remember our volunteers by name two months after leaving here. Ask the little 3-year old who grabs your hand as you walk down the hallway. It’s always the little things that we as volunteers don’t think anything about; but to someone else, it might be the kind words you said, the hug you gave, the interaction you had, the act of kindness you made, that will carry these families on. We may not realize the impact we have made on so many of the people we serve in the Hands of Faith program. But do know, that we do make a difference.
Every time Our Savior’s hosts Hands of Faith, I submit a thank you to my volunteers in the weekly bulletin and the Messenger. I am so proud of my volunteers who time after time give up their time to help those in need. So thank you again to my volunteers, my veteran seasoned ones as well as my new ones, who continue to support this important ministry.