We are so grateful for the support and help we continue to receive from all of you even during the harder times of a public health crisis, and we want to share stories that resonate with our clients, staff, and volunteers through weekly Stories of Hope emails and through Volunteer Spotlights.
On Thursday, amid Thrive DC's bustling Grocery Distribution, I talked to Cora about her time at Thrive DC. She had a lot to say about her time here and we're happy to have her as a part of the Thrive DC family!
I'm a second year student at American University, studying Economics with a minor in Spanish. I'm originally from Arkansas, and have loved my time living in DC.
I heard about Thrive through my participation in the Community Based Research Scholars Program at American University. The program allows us the opportunity to volunteer at various nonprofit organizations around the DC area, and I've been volunteering here since last fall.
I've always had an interest in service and volunteering, but usually focused around children and education, so I wanted to expand my experience within different focuses. I think that addressing homelessness and poverty should be considered a priority within humanitarian pursuits, government policy, and public health. Given all of that, as an individual I think it's your responsibility to evaluate your strengths and resources and give where able whether it's your time, intellect, or another contribution.
When I first started at Thrive DC, I had only a little experience with Spanish and recognized some shortcomings through language barriers when communicating with clients. Over the summer, when my plans had changed I had some extra time, so I started taking elementary Spanish at a local community college back at home. Now this fall after I've returned to Thrive, I'm improving my Spanish skills and better at helping clients in their native language. They're always grateful when other people can speak Spanish and it's nice to be able to talk to them without a language barrier. Now I'm getting to know a lot of the clients better.
Recently I've been helping with Thursday grocery distribution. I'll come in the morning and distribute bags to clients and move boxes.
I would say just be flexible! Thrive is a great place with so many welcoming and kind people- go with the flow and be willing to help wherever you're needed. It helps you recognize how your strengths can best serve clients and the other volunteers as well as staff.
Yesterday, I sat down with one of our most consistent volunteers, Karen, to talk about her time at Thrive DC. Karen, who is originally from Alabama, moved to DC about three years ago and almost immediately started volunteering at Thrive DC. Her husband, who had moved to DC soon before her, looked up places to volunteer in the DC area and found Thrive DC. Soon after, Karen was joining him, volunteering weekly at Thrive DC.
What drew her in was hearing about the welcoming staff and the variety of different services offered to clients, and what kept her here was volunteering for the first time at our morning program. Having the opportunity to serve clients morning breakfast and chat with them brightened her day, and she knew that she wanted to keep coming back.
Karen mentioned many different highlights from her time volunteering but there was one instance in particular that jumped out at her: "I was volunteering at the coat drive last winter and there was a grandmother and granddaughter. After a bit of searching through piles, they found a coat that was perfect for her. The grandmother was so happy to have found her granddaughter the right coat that she began to cry and in turn, the little girl began to cry as well. Their tears of happiness made me realize that we have the ability to create a lasting impact on clients and it made me so happy to see how appreciate they were."
Karen also talked about the day-to-day wins at Thrive DC. She often overhears clients announcing new jobs, or a potential new housing situation, or steps forward in Thrive DC's training programs; the positive changes she overhears in the hallways make Thrive DC that much more special to her. More recently, Karen says that Thrive DC's ability to pivot and supply food to so many during the pandemic has been yet another highlight for her. With the rise in unemployment, more people are in need of food, and Thrive DC has increased their efforts to provide readily available food to the community.
Usually you can find Karen in the mailroom at Thrive DC, but her job stretches far beyond that one room: "I help out in the mailroom, I helped with grocery bag distribution last week, and I help with filling grocery bags a lot as well. I am happy to do anything that the staff needs me to do and I am always ready to help where they need me." Outside of volunteering at Thrive DC, Karen also volunteers at an outreach program with her church. Every Sunday, they help people experiencing homelessness by giving out bags to those living around Union Station.
When asked what advice she would give to someone who is interested in volunteering with us, she replied, "just come with an open mind." She continued, saying, "There are a lot of great staff, a lot of great volunteers, and a lot of great clients. It's such a great community to be a part of, so it is definitely worth joining if you're looking to join a supportive community of people."
Why do you volunteer?
We sat down with Denise Woods, one of our long-time volunteers, to see what got her involved with our homeless clients, what has been a powerful moment for her, and what she is most proud of. Read on to see her answers!
I am an activist, advocate, consultant, mother, baker, interior designer and more. Did you notice yet that I hate boxes?
A neighbor told me about Thrive DC. For a long time I had wanted to volunteer with an organization that supports people in homelessness; when I found out I could bring my kids here I thought “Bingo!”
I wanted to make sure my that daughters experienced life outside our bubble and learned empathy for the people who don’t share our economic circumstances. Ever since I noticed that their first reaction to seeing homeless people on the street was fear, it’s been my goal to humanize our neighbors living on the edge.
I felt that Thrive DC could be transformative if my girls learned their stories and understood that people are so much more than their circumstances.
Terrible. Just kidding! I have volunteered with similar organizations and couldn’t leave quickly enough. At Thrive I feel like I leave better than when I enter.
I might come to Thrive in a bad mood, worried about the world’s problems or frustrated with my family, but I leave encouraged and emboldened by the hugs I receive and the conversations I have.
The people here show me the strength of the human spirit and I know my frustrations are tiny by comparison.
Toss up between staff and clients! The clients have often given me great advice about how to handle a family situation they themselves have faced, and the staff could not make this a more welcoming place to volunteer. Seriously!
From Alicia, who is as real as an Executive Director comes, to all the staff who treat their clients like they truly matter – not only do they make what could be an embarrassing and humiliating experience for the clients enjoyable and affirming, they also make sure to know all the clients names and mine.
I walked up to Thrive recently and one of the clients who I know and admire was outside.
As I walked up he began to sing about letting go of stress and finding the blessings in life while playing air guitar, and I couldn’t help but laugh and join in!
We had a fire drill one cold day and we all ran outside without our coats – except for those who hadn’t taken them off yet – and I started talking to one of the clients and complaining about the temperatures. To my surprise she immediately opened her coat and let me get inside!
I felt like she was a mother duck sheltering her duckling, even though I was 20 years older than her. And even though she is black and I am white there was no hesitancy at all in her generosity.
Another powerful moment was when a client told me that she spends three hours a day on the bus to eat at Thrive DC every day. She told me this is the only place she knows where she will be seen and treated as a whole human being.
I was floored, and it made me realize just how significant Thrive is for her and many others.
I am so proud of all of the above and Thrive DC's capacity to connect clients with housing resources. When someone has a home it means their life can be moved from the edges to a stable foundation.
Funding for families. Funding for crisis services. Funding for affordable housing. Need I say more?
Would you also like your family to volunteer with the homeless?
Brian has been volunteering with Thrive DC for about six months, and has become a valued member of our team while he's been here. We caught up with him after one of his shifts at the front desk to ask him about his experience at Thrive DC.
I work for the Architect of the Capitol on Capitol Hill here in DC. I am originally from Alabama and still have property and family there.
I was looking for somewhere to volunteer with the homeless in DC. After researching a few of the programs I decided to give Thrive a shot.
I will not say a task…for me the new things learned are the relationships with staff and clients.
Without question it is the same answer as above. Interactions with people that are genuinely appreciative for your service is a reward each time I walk through the door. From building ongoing friendships with staff and regular clients to helping the new face that is unsure of what they need…I really appreciate being there for them in that moment.
That moment happens on a regular basis… me standing over the women's underwear drawer trying to figure out what pair to offer a client that has asked for some. Lessons learned… always ask for a size and never assume!
Caring, compassionate and grounded in the community.
To some extent. Now when I travel around DC I attempt to look for those I feel that could use information about Thrive and I pass out a trifold info card.
Serving meals… I know all the programs are important and many are the ones that will help individuals get themselves back on their feet to self-support. However, giving someone a good meal is an act of love.
It is hard enough to battle homelessness and the challenges that come with that. Doing it hungry is impossible.
I would like to see more push toward affordable housing solutions. Not to say that Thrive would drive all of that but work with the DC gov’t to find solutions; maybe even have a Thrive representative that worked with the local government boards and went around to different parts of the city to interact with clients where they are.
I also deliver meals through a local church on Sundays and expanding on the answer above we need to do more for housing alternatives.
There are many proven gov’t led programs across the country that are working. DC needs to be proactive and not just go sweep tent encampments periodically. That does not fix the issue it only drives those that don’t want to stay in a shelter to move from one encampment to another.
If you want to be a volunteer like Brian, we always need good volunteers to work with our clients. Sign up for a Volunteer Orientation by clicking the button below!
Thrive DC is proud to have committed, engaged community members go above and beyond to help our clients escape homelessness. Below is Jocelyn's story about why she couldn't stay just a volunteer - and had to do more.
When I moved to DC last May, I was looking for ways to become more involved. I stumbled upon Thrive DC simply by chance and really liked what I saw on its website, but it took me a long time to finally commit to volunteering. It felt like much bigger of a commitment in my head than in reality.
Ultimately, it was just a matter of making the decision and taking action on it, and I haven’t regretted it since!
There are two things that I love the most about Thrive DC. The first is their holistic approach to addressing homelessness. All of their services are interconnected and they help get people back on their feet with as much independence as possible.
But the most valuable thing they offer is a sense of community. I believe that no matter the circumstance in life, a lively and supportive community always has the power of bringing hope. The ladies I see every Friday both encourage and have fun with each other and there is so much joy in the room; it’s a good reminder for me to know that even those who have little can make so much life out of the little that they do have.
There are some clients I see every week in the dinner program but you can tell their minds are somewhere else. I am worried their negative circumstances in life will bring some clients to lose hope, because hope requires a willingness from within to believe that things could get better and to keep fighting.
I joined the Next Step Team because I would like to see Thrive DC’s services expand to more clients and its community be made available to more people who need it. Volunteering is valuable as it helps make the programs happen and run more smoothly, but money, at the end of the day, ensures that these programs remain afloat.
I wanted to contribute, even just a little bit, to this organization that I have seen make an impact in the lives of the ladies I work with and in my life, too.
I don’t know where the ladies I see every Friday will be if programs like this don’t exist anymore.
Want to be a part of the Team? Click the button below. You'll join other concerned community members helping people in need take the "next step" out of homelessness.
Every now and then we like to highlight the people who give their time to serve our clients. This month it’s Bill! He’s been volunteering with us for several months, and has been a fixture of our Breakfast Program.
I am president of the Greater Washington China Investment Center, a small nonprofit organization. I formed the organization about two years ago. It’s a bit of a “semi-retirement” project, which gives me time to work with Thrive DC.
Before that I worked 17 years for a global PR firm.
I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that would allow me to help people in need directly, face to face. A consultant I had hired for my China work asked me to be a reference for Thrive DC. I provided the reference but became curious about Thrive DC’s mission. The more I learned, the more I was convinced that this was the kind of organization I was looking for.
I have found working with Thrive extremely rewarding. I’m now coming twice a week. On Monday’s I work in the kitchen with a group from my church Blessed Sacrament. And on Thursdays I usually take names of our guests as they arrive.
I enjoy both for different reasons. The kitchen allows me to prepare the actual “product” that we provide to the guests. It also helps me hone my kitchen skills, under the gentle guidance of chef Terrance. And the intake gives me a chance to meet the guests and get to know them.
I really enjoy getting to know the guests. I try to learn more names each week so I can greet them personally. Brian is my hero in this effort. He knows everybody. As I get to know them personally, I am constantly surprised to learn people’s true personalities and “backstories.”
Not really a “moment,” but I love getting stock tips from Manny. It is so incongruous to hear him talk so knowledgeably about obscure companies he has researched and his guarantees that, if I buy a particular stock, I will get rich. Last week, I was amazed when he pulled his notes out of his pocket and produced a hand-written spreadsheet full of data on dozens of companies that he had prepared at the library. As he often says, “I am not kidding!” He’s not.
A couple of weeks ago there was a really touching incident. That day, most of the clients had arrived and the dining room was pretty full. As usual, there was a lot of conversation and laughter. I was having a conversation with Brian, a staff member, and William, a client. Years ago William was a client of Thrive DC and, in appreciation for the help he received, he returns to the breakfast program almost every day to provide emotional and spiritual support for the guests. William thrives on intellectual discourse and, when he’s not encouraging clients and staff, he is engaged in deep philosophical discussions.
We were probably talking about the meaning of life when a woman came in who was clearly in pain, not physical pain, but emotional pain. Her face was wracked. She was so stressed she couldn’t speak. I asked her for her name, but she didn’t – or couldn’t – respond. She just stood there looking like she was carrying all the anxiety in the world on her shoulders.
William asked her if she was alright. No answer. Just pain in her face. He asked her again. Nothing. Then he said, “You need a hug,” and walked over and wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. She leaned into him and put her face on his chest. They held that pose for a long time. Her face softened a bit. After a while, they separated and William kissed her on the cheek, saying, “You need to pray, dear, just pray, and you’ll be fine.” She proceeded to her table, seemingly somewhat relieved, and William departed.
The incident illustrated what is, for me, the best thing about Thrive DC. There is a spirit of community that infuses the organization. The direct services provided are necessary for the body, but the community serves the soul. Who’s to say which is the more valuable? Both are necessary and both can be found in great measure at Thrive DC.
Thrive was my first experience working directly with people in need. Frankly, I was amazed at the laughter and good will in the breakfast program. In addition to the food, laundry and showers, I was surprised to see the social benefit that Thrive DC provides the guests. The staff treat the guests with respect and affection and the feelings are reciprocated. There’s so much laughter in the room. That’s what surprised me most.
I don’t think I’ve been involved deeply or long enough to be personally “proud” of anything that Thrive DC does. But what impresses me most is the degree to which the staff treats the clients with dignity and genuine affection. I work most closely with Brian, so he stands out for me. But everyone seems to fully appreciate the humanity of all the clients.
Our Morning Program is aimed at providing our clients with fresh food, emergency groceries, personal care items, showers, laundry and mail.
Recently, American University students conducted an assessment on our male clients to get a better grasp of their needs and backgrounds. Not only has this report helped our team to further understand our clients but it has created a better awareness of DC homelessness for everyone.
To help you get a sense of who we work with, here are 5 things you should know about our clients.
We are located in Columbia Heights, a region with a large Spanish population often overlooked when it comes to Spanish programs.
Wanting to address this growing issue, our bilingual Job Developer David Vicenty has implemented a Spanish Employment Workshops to help our Hispanic clients.
Twice a week, we provide two hours of working one-on-one with them to improve resumes, look for jobs online, and assist with completing job applications.
Despite DC being internationally recognized as a city with opportunities, DC’s homeless are growing and many are staying homeless.
Though we do provide a variety of programs to all of our clients, our mission is to prevent and end homelessness. That being said, this study is proving just how important it is to continue addressing an often neglected population.
Actually, more than 30% are low-income individuals who are struggling to keep afloat. This can be especially difficult when buying groceries since healthy alternatives are often expensive.
Luckily, our Fresh Food Fridays provide a free farmer’s market for all of our clients. Therefore our place becomes a haven for many wanting vegetables, fruits, pasta and much more!
In fact, 80% of our clients believe they have what it takes to land a job. However, many of them are currently not working yet and are looking for jobs.
We understand just how essential jobs are and help through our Employment Support and Real Opportunity Training Program. It’s through these programs that our clients are able to make a real change in their lives.
If you're interested in helping people find jobs, contact the Employment Specialist Jemahl Nixon at (202) 503-1521 or email@example.com.
Not being able to pay for transportation can be very hard to our clients since this often means they miss major appointments like going to the doctor or job interviews.
However, over one-third of our clients use tokens which allow for a free pass to board the Metro or Metrobus. Yet this continues to be an important issue. In order to help prevent homelessness, we have to provide those who cannot afford to use the Metro or bus the opportunities to get to job interviews.
If you enjoyed getting an insightful look into who we serve and how we help, join the Thrive DC team either through volunteering or donating. To get started, contact our Community Relations Manager Greg Rockwell at 202-503-1528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to read more about the assessment.
Four years ago, Ellen’s daughter volunteered in the computer lab at Thrive DC. She told her mom that she would enjoy working in the kitchen. She’s been a Breakfast Program volunteer ever since!
On a typical Thursday morning, Ellen loves to help in the kitchen – unless she has to cut onions.
Ellen also enjoys greeting and signing in clients. She gets to see them again and again, watching clients become her friends. She’s happy to see clients and clients are happy to see her.
When asked why people should volunteer at Thrive DC, Ellen said, "There’s a community here."
The staff consistently shows respect and kindness to their clients. They are also organized, having a broad range of services and referrals like showers, laundry, and a mailing address.
It’s clear to Ellen that we’re in it for the long haul.
Summer is now in session and temperatures are rocketing up. What does that mean for people without a home to retreat from the heat?
Unfortunately, many homeless individuals don’t have access to water or air-conditioned rooms and become at risk for severe sunburns, hyperthermia, heat stroke or other health hazards.
These risks to a vulnerable population are avoidable and there are several things we can do to help. It is up to all residents to learn how to respond in these situations.
Read below for five concrete things you can do to help the homeless you meet outside!
Don’t be afraid to hand out water bottles or critical summer necessities.
Summer necessities include travel-sized sunscreen, water bottles (with ice), bug spray, and Gold Bond. You can have a couple on you or easily store them in your car.
Not only is this helping people in a direct and tangible way, it also gives you the opportunity to talk with someone and see how they’re doing.
The better you know people you may see regularly on the street, the better you’ll be able to assess if something is wrong the next time you meet them.
Guiding a homeless person to the nearest shelter allows them to be aided by experts within the field, ones that can provide them short-term and long-term resources and help. Libraries are also great for a drink of water and a cold building.
When it’s 95 degrees or more outside, DC opens up cooling shelters to offer more relief during the day. While many homeless may know where the regular shelters are, these special cooling shelters can go unnoticed. Pay attention to DC Heat alerts to know when these extra resources are available.
See the map above for cooling shelters, homeless shelters and libraries in your area.
If you see someone in danger of heat-related stress, contact the hyperthermia hotline at 1-800-535-7252. The hotline can provide van transportation for a homeless individual to one of DC’s cooling centers.
During a heat alert, these shelters are activated on weekdays, and can provide water and a cool space for the homeless.
Not only should you locate your nearest shelter but feel free to help out!
Shelters are always in need of supplies, but some items are especially needed in the summer. You can help today with water bottles, new socks, sunscreen, bug spray, hats and visors for our clients.
To help us prepare and be ready for when our clients need us most, also consider a one-time or monthly gift. Your support helps us when we’re busiest during the height of summer and the dead of winter.
If someone appears to be unconscious or passed out, local businesses and residents should not hesitate to call 9-1-1 immediately.
Don’t ignore the situation. Especially on a hot day, dehydration can happen quickly and even lying on the sidewalk can potentially lead to severe sunburns.
If you’re wrong, and the ambulance comes when it’s not needed then it’s just a waste of gas. But if you’re right, your call could save someone’s life.
At Thrive DC we have great respect for our clients. They are survivors! Their story matters. They fight back despite a lack of shelter and face challenge after challenge, often with no network to lend support.
For first time volunteers, it can be hard to see our clients for who they are underneath the surface issues of clothing, smell, attitude, or situation. Many of our volunteers are meeting the homeless for the first time! They come with natural expectations and stereotypes, and often leave Thrive DC with a powerful experience of getting to know real people, not stereotypes.
However, those who have a negative experience often have the same criticism: that clients did not say “thank you” when volunteers were serving them meals or distributing coffee or toiletries.
Expecting positive feedback can be toxic for volunteers as service work does not require the person being served to be grateful. It can create a bad experience for the volunteer and a bad environment for the client who needs most of all a safe space and welcoming atmosphere.
Thrive DC works with a community that is struggling and needs advocates. Hearing volunteers give negative feedback about those they serve is discouraging, since it means we failed to help them get engaged and they missed out on the opportunity to get to know amazing people.
With that in mind, here are our Top 5 ways to have a great volunteer experience:
Openness: Being comfortable with strangers is not easy. But a big smile and eye contact go a long way to making people feel comfortable. Body language is a huge part of communication. Disinterested volunteers stand out to staff and clients and look unapproachable.
Acceptance: Volunteers that keep from passing judgment find connections with our clients. Our clients may be hard to understand or have trouble understanding you. But accepting what they have to offer can lead to amazing discoveries!
Invest: Investing a portion of your time to conversation is huge! Be genuine. Start with a compliment or discuss your journey. The memories you make when serving others are not easily forgotten! Discovering a shared interest is a beautiful experience.
Learn: Coming with questions adds to the experience. Many of our clients are open to sharing about their lives or situations. And they have lots of questions about you! Getting to know someone is often a two-way street.
Initiative: Hard workers catch the attention of staff and clients! Great volunteers have a can-do attitude. They look for things to do and this is noticed, appreciated, and reciprocated.