The Interfaith Hospitality Network logo.

The Interfaith Hospitality Network logo.

On Oct. 26, 2015, my classmate Josh and I volunteered at a church shelter for those without a home in Rochester. Robin Saner’s foundations of counseling class in the Graduate Studies of Counselor Education Program is working with IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Networks) as part of an advocacy project. This project is helping us to be more active in our community in understanding poverty and it’s affects, and overall, we are learning how we can better the negative outcomes of poverty. I think it is easy for many of us to place judgment upon those without a home, and those living in poverty. I think poverty is viewed at a superficial level, instead of being viewed as a structural problem in our society. Which, in actuality, anyone could lose what he or she has worked hard for at any moment.

Joshua and I volunteered as overnight help, staying at the shelter during the nighttime hours. IHN and the different churches involved serve as a warm, welcoming, safe space for those without a home. I was not concerned about staying overnight because I usually can sleep in any environment, and in general I did not have any concerns. But, I needed to remind myself that families would most likely want their space. When Joshua and I arrived, the volunteers working before us explained our duties, where our bedrooms were, and some information about the families who were staying. It seemed to me these volunteers have helped for a while, which internally motivated me, and made me want to contribute more time in the future.

We all stayed downstairs which held the sleeping rooms, a gym, a movie lounge and a kitchen. When we arrived, only two of the families were there, and the other two were expected to arrive around 9pm. One family relaxed in the gym for a while; this family consisted of a mother, and her two teenage daughters who were interested in their phones the majority of the evening, and her son who I estimate to be about four years old. He enjoyed my company playing basketball in the gym-lots of giggles. The other family consisted of a mother and her three children; the children were in their room already upon our arrival, but their mom was awake working on school work. Josh was in charge of answering the telephone, and letting the expected families in upon their arrival. A mother and her cute little daughter arrived around 9pm, and they joined Josh and me in the kitchen. When in the kitchen, her daughter was singing a little tune- Joshua and I chuckled, and mom replied, “I don’t know what she is singing, maybe something from school”- it was a minor connection, but we all thought it was funny.

The last family, a father and his son arrived a little later. They also joined the kitchen for some food. I wanted to hear some stories, and/or make a deeper connection. But, I could tell families were just living their lives as they would regardless if we were there or not. The families then went to their rooms. After this, everyone seemed settled, so Josh and I went to our rooms.

My sleeping space during my volunteer work.

My sleeping space during my volunteer work.

As for sleeping, surprisingly, I DID NOT SLEEP! I usually can sleep anywhere; at any time. But, I achieved maybe two hours of sleep total. I do not know if it was the environment or if I was uncomfortable on the air mattress. I could not relax to get some shuteye. So with this, I was thinking and reflecting. I could not imagine–firstly, not having my own space. Then not being able to sleep, then getting up for work or school the next day and restless. Then in turn feeling exhausted, and then over exerting myself at any job, and then trying to find a place to stay in the evening. I am a single person without children; I could not imagine being a mother, and single mother at that…it has to be a vicious cycle. Personal health, mental and physical, would not be a priority. Needless to say, this one restless night was eye opening.

Josh had his alarm set for 6:30am- a mother wanted to make sure someone would wake her if her alarm did not go off. I woke up around 6:45 am. The end cap of my two-ish hours of sleep.

The gentleman and his son were gone when I awoke, Josh shared he was getting his vehicle. Josh woke up earlier than 6:30am due to to this gentleman’s son crying because he was not certain where his dad was. His dad was in the shower! I did not hear this commotion- my room was a little further away from everyone. But, I wonder if he woke others. After this conversation, I joined everyone in the kitchen. The single mother and her cute daughter were ready to go and eating breakfast, along with the student mother and her children. Which, I would like to share that both mothers, by appearance, are hard working individuals. One had her work clothes on, and the other a student. I know there are many stereotypes about people without a home. I feel there is an association of laziness with homelessness, and this is an example, and proof that this is not the case.

At this time the kiddos from these families were eating breakfast- IHN had a food supply for the families. Cereal was the main thing consumed. The bus driver arrived around 7! The bigger (gym) family- mother, two daughters, and son, were scrambling to get ready. Joshua offered the toddler boy from this family some cereal for breakfast, but he did not want any. I am interested in the eating styles of the families. The single father and his son the night before consumed soda right before bed. The little son part of the bigger family, ate only a few gold fish before his family left in the morning. I wonder if there is any way we could better help families prepare food for their day? Food and nutrition is one component that could help better anyone’s day.

All families left 5 minutes before 7:30am. At the end of volunteering, doors were made sure to be locked and keys were put away. I will say this night volunteering put some things into perspective, and motivates me to do more in the community.

–Sarah Jackson