Tracy | Stephanie Sibet | St. Thomas the Apostle | Ginger and Adelle | Gaylord Girl Scout troop | From homelessness to volunteering | A special dinner | Wanda and Normandale Community College | Patrick Wood
Tracy began volunteering with Simpson by serving dinner at the men’s shelter with his church, First Universalist. “I was so amazed by the kindness of the men towards each other. No one would go up for second helpings until they knew everyone had eaten,” he says.
He is now a regular volunteer for the overnight shift at the men’s shelter. Overnight volunteers provide an awake presence overnight and assist Simpson staff members with the overall running of the shelter. “I am envious of the strength of the shelter guests. I couldn’t do it. Most will never have any idea of how they positively impact me as a volunteer of Simpson.”
This Simpson volunteer heard about us when she was a first year student at the University of Minnesota. She volunteered because of her genuine interest in the issue of homelessness, not as a course requirement.
Since March of 2005, Stephanie has volunteered for over 65 overnight shifts in the men’s shelter, sharing over 870 hours of her time with shelter guests (2008 stats), while working full time as a bike messenger. She can be counted on to sign up for at least two nights a month at the men’s shelter and she can also be counted on to fill in at the last minute.
Comments from the shelter staff include: “The guys always remember Stephanie and they light up when they see she is the volunteer that night.” “The guys think she is really tough because she is a bike messenger.” “She’s an amazing volunteer who really makes a difference.” “She is quiet, but has this amazing sense of humor. The guys just open up when they talk to her. She goes above and beyond. She’ll even stay up all night and sort the supply room.” When the men’s shelter team was asked who they would like to see win the 2007 Volunteer Service Award they unanimously agreed: Stephanie Sibet.
Photo: Stephanie and shelter guest Michael
The 2009 Simpson Celebrates Community Volunteer Service Award was presented to St. Thomas the Apostle, who has made a substantial contribution to Simpson Housing Services and the people we serve.
This church’s work with us began over two years ago, fueled by kindness, love, enthusiasm, passion and the idea of furnishing the homes of families entering our transitional housing program who could not utilize the services of Bridging (as Bridging is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity).
A team of church member’s educated their parish on issues of homelessness and of the work of Simpson Housing Services. They encouraged members to donate furniture so that people could move into apartments that feel like a home. The church community rallied together and the items began to flood in. In addition to furniture, members also donated framed art, lamps, rugs, as well as new household items.
In addition to the items, the parish members donate countless hours of time and limitless amounts of energy. Volunteers pick up items from various locations and deliver directly to the new homes of families. In November 2007, the first family received items through their efforts and since the beginning of the partnership, they have furnished the homes of 14 families in our family housing program. The families who have received these items have benefited greatly from the feeling of being home.
This group is an overall supporter of the mission of the agency. In late 2008, they set out to raise additional funds for the agency and in early 2009 donated over $14,000 to Simpson Housing Services.
Family Housing Program Manager Cincere Burns says: “The commitment and passion of this group is truly amazing to me. I am honored to have worked with them from the beginning of this project. They are committed to both the homeless community and to Simpson Housing Services. Everyone who has contributed from this group truly is a shining star.”
Photo: St. Thomas volunteers help a family move into its new home.
Ginger and Adelle: The first volunteers to serve dinner at the women’s shelter continue cooking after seven years
Ginger and Adele, from Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Edina, were the first volunteers to cook and serve dinner at the Simpson Women’s Shelter seven years ago. They have returned nearly every month with their kettles of hot food, colorful tablecloths, cheery flowers, and their warm smiles.
The guests staying at the shelter love to see them come. And when they’re asked why they continue to volunteer, they respond, almost simultaneously: “We just love it. We love the friends we make and the interaction with the women. And it’s nice to help out and give back to the community.”
Ginger and Adele believe that the chocolate they bring every month is perhaps the most welcome sight when they visit. The bags of make-up, toiletries, purses, paperbacks, coats and gloves are also treats. Ginger says: “We like things to be special. Everyone likes the same things and we like to bring the extras that the women may not get very often.”
When everyone is sitting around after dinner (guests, volunteers, and staff), sipping coffee, eating brownies, chatting, and learning to crochet from Adele and Ginger, the shelter is more than just a safe place for the night-it’s a coffee clutch and a place to belong. “We recognize that homelessness can happen to any one of us. Anyone can have a little bad luck.”
Gaylord Girl Scout Troop #30743 from Gaylord, Minnesota, led by Jodi Sprandel, made a difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness. In December and January, the troop served two separate evening meals at the Simpson Housing Women’s Shelter in Minneapolis.
What would appear to be a regular evening meal to many (spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, and pie) is quite often the highlight of many of the shelter guest’s day and sadly, quite often the first meal of the day. The troop reported that they were a little nervous, not knowing what to expect. Nerves quickly turned to smiles and laughter. “Our favorite part of the evening was sitting down and eating with the women, getting to know them and hearing their stories,” reports troop leader Jodi. The troop actually had to be coaxed to leave at the end of the evening, as they were enjoying the experience so much.
Impacted by their contact with the women, Jodi and her scouts wanted to do more. The troop took advantage of the Girl Scout 2008 Thinking Day event and shared their experiences with the other Gaylord Girl Scouts and together made 200 sandwiches for shelter guests to take with them when they leave the shelter at 7 a.m.
“This experience forced all of us out of our comfort zones and into someone else’s shoes for a day,” Jodi says. “We thought about what we like to eat when we chose what to serve in the shelters and what to put in the sandwiches,” added troop member Sonja Sprandel. By connecting with their community, Troop #30743 learned that all of our commonalities are a lot greater than our differences.
It was August of 2006 and because of roommate circumstances I was forced from my apartment. I managed to stay with friends for about a week, but they had their own families and lives. Although I was fortunate enough to have a job at a warehouse, I was without a place to live. I knew if I saved every penny from my checks, except for bus fare, I would have enough to get into a small efficiency apartment in about a month. But, what to do in the meantime?
Through a miracle, I found the Simpson Women’s Shelter and it was there I was taken in – to a wonderful hot meal, a chance to shower, wash clothes and even given toiletries, socks and underwear. Each morning I was given sandwiches for my lunch at work and I had a safe place at night.
To be honest, it wasn’t how I ever envisioned myself – having to rely on the grace of others. Every night groups of caring souls with smiles and piles of delicious food came just for us. I realized there is always another side of the story and if I ever had the means and opportunity to reciprocate, I wanted to be the one to bring a “smile and a pile.”
It took almost exactly a month, but I got my little efficiency. Since then, I moved up to a better apartment and my warehouse job turned out to be the experience I needed to get into an actual career (with a Fortune 500 company no less!) So, recently when my daughter wanted to do some volunteer work, the Simpson Women’s Shelter offered the perfect chance to give back. We brought in piles of lasagna and our smiles. Sometimes we are blessed by others and don’t even realize it. I was fortunate enough to realize this, and I’ve never forgotten.
To all of you who give (or are thinking of giving) your time, money and cooking talents – many, many thanks!
by Jenny Finden-Watson
Feeling nervous and excited, Heather Saliba, Karen Alexander and I rang the doorbell of the Simpson Women’s Shelter. We waited and we wondered. Had we made enough food? Would someone show us the ropes? Would the oven take an eternity to heat up?! Would the women be friendly or prefer to be left alone? This was the first meal St. James on the Parkway would serve at the shelter, and we weren’t sure what to expect.
The door flew open. “Welcome!” said Jim the smiling caretaker. He wasted no time in explaining the kitchen layout and warning us that we had a very hot oven (oh joy). The women would arrive about 6 p.m. and we could begin serving whenever our food was ready. “Will you be eating with us?” he asked. We said we were planning on it, to which he responded “Great, that’s what we like.” We felt like this could be fun.
Soon the smells of homemade garlic bread, savory sauce, meat and sautéed mushrooms filled the air. And the pasta was heating up nicely, (thanks to the hot oven). Karen’s colorful salad was coming together complete with two dressings. We grated cheese, shredded basil, dished hot peppers, and piled fruit and cookies high on their plates. Dinner was ready.
“Something smells delicious” the first woman commented as she entered the room. “Mmmmm, what smells so good?” asked another. Now we knew we were going to have a fun night. The thirteen guests served themselves and commented excitedly when they came to an item they really liked. We dished up our plates too and sat down at the tables to eat and chat with our guests.
A large screen TV was tuned to the local news. Everyone was interested in the weather. “What did you do to beat the 100 degree heat the other day?” I asked my table. “Walked to the park and hung out at the kiddy pool all day,” said one woman. She went on to explain about being able to watch the local forecast, especially in the morning. The women have to leave the shelter at 7 a.m. and cannot return until 6 p.m. so it’s good to be prepared.
“You look tired, is it your new medication?” one concerned guest asked another at my table. Yes, she thought it was. The women seemed very concerned about one another and to know each other well. The shelter has no limits on how long a person can stay. And as a result relationships develop.
“I love mushrooms!” “Good salad!” “This is really good, thank you.” Everyone was enjoying their meals and there was a lot of going back and forth for seconds…and even thirds. They made sure to let us know what they really enjoyed.
We wanted to know what the guests liked to have served, so we asked. “Believe it or not, hot dogs and hamburgers with all the fixings, you know, a really good hamburger, not like in the fast food restaurants.” “Pickles, we love pickles!” “Tuna, like in a pasta or rice salad is always good.” “Potato salad always goes over well.” One woman even mentioned venison in white wine. What don’t they want? Almost in unison they exclaimed, “Coleslaw, only one of us eats it!”
As we cleaned up the kitchen, the women took out their mattresses and bedding. Some went to the lockers for their belongings and tidied up for bed. Some took turns at the telephone. Others lounged on old car seats outside the back door having a smoke and enjoying the beautiful breeze.
At the end of the evening many of the women thanked us for a delicious meal. We felt it was a treat not only to serve, but to visit with the guests as well. We had taken part in something very special…and we can’t wait to do it all over again!
Jenny Finden-Watson is the meal coordinator for St. James on the Parkway Episcopal Church in Minneapolis.
Wanda Kanwischer, Assistant Director of Student Life and the Director of Service Learning at Normandale Community College and Normandale Community College
Wanda Kanwischer and Normandale Community College began partnering with Simpson about 10 years ago to provide college students with a service learning experience and to fulfill a need for overnight shelter volunteers.
Service-Learning is an exciting teaching strategy that integrates classroom theory with meaningful community service projects in an effort to enhance curriculum and promote civic responsibility. Students engage in activities that benefit their community while developing a connection between classroom instruction and real-life situations.
Wanda has dedicated her time and resources to fostering a relationship with Simpson that is beneficial to both the students and the people Simpson serves. Some of the classes that she has paired with Simpson have been: Drug Use and Abuse, Police and Community, Families in Crisis, Family Communication, Service Learning, American Minorities, and Ethics.
Pairing the colleges Criminal Justice academic department with the overnight shelter opportunity has been amazing. Students wishing to pursue careers in criminal justice are required to take the course, “Police and Community,” which examines the interactions between peace officers with community members, most specifically minorities. “Police and Community” strongly encourages students to commit to a 55 hour overnight shelter opportunity, thus educating future law enforcement personnel about homelessness and poverty.
Wanda has also organized a group called Hats for the Homeless. Students gather once a week to knit and crochet hats, mittens, and scarves for people experiencing homelessness. There is also a learning component so the students understand how their donations are making an impact. In addition to the Service Learning classes and Hats for the Homeless, she has coordinated many sandwich making events, and has become the person faculty and staff come to when they have donations for Simpson.
Since we’ve had the ability to track volunteer time in our database, this person and institution has provided Simpson with over 260 overnight volunteers and countless hours of service. Thank you Wanda Kanwischer (pronounced can-wish-er), Assistant Director of Student Life and the Director of Service Learning at Normandale Community College and Normandale Community College
Photo: Wanda with Julie Manworren, Simpson Executive Director
On any given night in Minnesota, 9,200 people are experiencing homelessness. After speaking with Patrick Wood, you get the sense that he has met most of them.
Patrick has been a long time advocate for people experiencing homelessness. Patrick doesn’t do his work at a desk or a podium. He scales river banks, camps out under bridges, and sits beside the people who are out on the streets. He listens when no one else will and looks into the eyes of those that many choose to avoid.
Throughout the last 40 years, Patrick has been helping the homeless see that they are a vital part of the community. He helps people see that they are important and they belong.
Patrick cut his teeth in the late 1960s in Detroit, working at the infamous Eloise Hospital, helping de-institutionalized patients find their way in the community. Patrick began to see people in need of mental health services slipping through the cracks of society.When a friend encouraged him to move to Minneapolis, Patrick thought: “Why not? I love the cold.” And he knew that there would be people in need of his help wherever he went. Having weathered his own bouts with mental illness, Patrick had a way with people who had trouble fitting into what could be referred to as main stream society.
Learning the lay of Minneapolis by working as a cab driver, Patrick first stayed in what is commonly referred to as a flop house or transient hotel. “A person grows up by being around grown-ups. These houses were close-knit communities and for $2 a night, you were connected to a guy at the front desk who knew everything,” Patrick says. “No community is made better by people living under bridges,” asserts Patrick. And throughout the 1980s, Patrick was seeing more and more people making their homes there. “Brilliant, resourceful people were being wasted. What we needed was to build real bridges for them back into community.”
Patrick was working as a mental health outreach counselor and saw a large chunk of the homeless population being underserved. Patrick had a dream of a clinically-based outreach program to help connect people to available benefits and services. Many in the homeless community were distrustful: Patrick had an in. He knew where they lived and he knew the homeless community gatekeepers who were his entrée into deeper levels of the homeless society. He dressed like they did and most importantly, he listened to what they had to say. He allowed them to be, as he puts it, “architects of their own success.”
The roster of people Patrick has helped is endless. Eugene sticks out. A Vietnam vet, “Gene” had been on the streets for 25 years, the last 15 in a dumpster behind a Minneapolis warehouse. Patrick’s four-year patience with Gene paid off. He got him connected with his VA benefits and most importantly, convinced him that there was a better life for him. Patrick smiles when he thinks about Gene in his apartment. Sadly, many of the people he has known throughout the years have died.
Patrick is a quiet, dignified, soft and well-spoken gentleman. He believes that to permanently house people, we must help them see themselves as part of the community and a citizen of this country. “Recent initiatives to register homeless people to vote are a solid start to giving them the voice that is theirs.”