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Volunteer Spotlight: Interview with Camille

Posted on June 14, 2019

We couldn’t do this critical work without your help and continued support for our clients whether that be helping Chef Terrance in the kitchen to sorting mail and everything in between, the impact is helping us better serve the community. We are sharing stories that resonate with our clients, staff, and volunteers though weekly Stories of Hope emails and our monthly Volunteer Spotlight series.

Mariah, our Communications Coordinator, sat down with Camille to learn more about why she got involved with us and how others can get started. Camille has been volunteering with us since we were still the Dinner Program for Homeless Women. She has served on our board of directors, and continues to be involved through her weekly mindfulness group and volunteering on our advisory board. She’s been a dedicated supporter of all things Thrive DC since 1995 and we’re proud to have her as part of the Thrive DC family!

Read more about her story below:

I know that you’ve been volunteering with Thrive DC for a while but I’d love to know exactly how long and how you first heard about Thrive DC.

So I believe it would be 1995 because my son was in kindergarten at Janney Elementary School and we had this program in place where we provided a lasagna dinner once a month for clients. We would come and make lasagna, then join in the kitchen and help serve. This was when Thrive DC was still called the Dinner Program for Homeless Women and we came in the evening. I’d take my son after school and we’d help serve, this was three places ago near Martin Luther King library.

All three of my kids were at Janney so when the person who coordinated that partnership left Janney, I took over as the coordinator of that partnership.

What made you continue to volunteer with us?

Well, because I think it’s an amazing program! I just think it’s a great program and I wanted my kids to stay involved. After Janney they still came occasionally and sometimes we’d come on Thanksgiving together to volunteer. My daughter has come a few times with CREW DC (Commercial Real Estate Women). I just wanted to lead by example for my kids and say, hey this is important. There are people less fortunate than us and we need to help out when we can. Shortly after Fiona left Janney in 2012, we were at a Gala and my husband said to Alicia: “You should get Camille on the board!” and I was like, “Oh, thank you Larry.” I’m joking, it was great! So then I got on the board!

Sometimes I still come to help with meals. I mostly do my mindfulness and meditation group now. I’ve transitioned from the board because my term was up but we started an advisory board so we’re getting that going right now. I’m really happy to be on the advisory board and to have served on the board but glad I had a connection to the work before that so I knew I would continue to come and help in a different way. I like the fact that I can still be hands on too. Everyone has a different skill set to offer. I’ve gotten to know the clients quite a bit so I like when I get to see them and touch base. When I don’t see a client for a while, I get worried.

I wanna hear more about your mindfulness and meditation group. When did you start it and how did you see it fitting in to client needs?

It was already started by another board member. Gracy was teaching yoga and I remember talking to her when she was pregnant with her son. A lot of the times when people hear yoga they think of difficult poses so I wanted to help change the perspective. I said I’d be happy to take over it and I may have a different spin on it. I think it’s been over a year now!

We meet Wednesday mornings for a half an hour so they can get downstairs to eat breakfast. I call it mindfulness, meditation, and movement practice which is yoga too. Yoga is a little bit of everything: mindfulness, meditation, breathing, and it’s spiritual. We meet in the sanctuary and the most we’ve had is 7 participants and sometimes it’s as small as two people joining. I really liek it because I’ve really gotten to know clients.

We do a mini sangha, a community of people who meditate together and share. We start with a sitting meditation, sometimes we’ll do a walking meditation and I’ll guide us through it. We follow that with a welcome, we go around the circle and welcome one another. Then we do a little movement. I’m afraid to call it yoga in case it may turn some people away. When I first get to Thrive on Wednesday I’ll usually walk around the dining room area and talk to people, encourage them to join us.

We mostly do movement that you can do in a chair but sometimes we’ll do movements that you’d see in a typical yoga class but it’s not challenging and I always offer modifications. After the movement, we usually do readings and I’ll bring in a book. I’ll bring in books that are inspirational and non-religious. Teachings of loving kindness and freeing yourself fro pain and suffering. Right now, we’re reading pieces of every step and it’s just a book about mindfulness and how to be present in the here and now. We read a little section the other day on how to be with what you are in that moment. There’s also a section on sitting meditations and eating meditations, letting your body enjoy it and slowing down.

Sometimes I bring in cards. I found these cards that are called, ‘who have you come here to be’. They’re really cool. Everyone picks one and there’s always a special word and picture on the card.  For example, it might say: ‘I have come here to be patient or I have come here to be energetic.’ We share each person’s card and they may not feel whatever that card says that day or they may want to feel that way.

I always give time to share whatever is on your mind and it’s a judgement free zone. I want it to feel like a safe place. There was something that a client shared and I asked if I could share. They said yes to bring awareness to it. A client had gone into Starbucks and was arrested because they were resting there, they weren’t feeling well and didn’t buy a cup of coffee. The client came in to our meeting that day really shaken, especially because they had been in the hospital earlier that week and their blood pressure was high from that encounter. Sometimes people will share that it feels really good to be here today so we always have time for that. We have a bell and then do a hugging meditation.

It’s great that people can share those things with you, have that time to unwind and not think about the outside world.

Yes! One day, a gentleman in the dining room told me, “Ya know, these guys don’t know what that group is. You should have a video or something to explain what the group does and more people would be going.” I’d love to share a video clip or something on what it’s like to practice mindfulness and being present.That way, the yoga portion is not as intimidating.

What has stood out to you the most throughout the years as you’ve volunteered with us?

Most recently, there’s a woman who comes to the group and she said that coming on Wednesday morning really makes her day. She told me that she looks forward to coming and sharing time with us. She’s had a brain injury but she’s really smart and happy to be there. I shared that it’s just as meaningful to me as it is to her. It’s important for clients to know that too. We’re in this little community together! That felt really good. When I’ve served in the dining room, I love when people are smiling and enjoying Chef Terrance’s food. How it brings joy and community. It’s fun to see people chatting it up and meeting with friends at their tables. Sometimes someone will stop me and thank me for being there.

What advice would you give someone who’s interested in volunteering with us or just maybe getting started?

I would just say, come and volunteer! Come in and see what it’s like. I think the website is a great place to go and read about what other volunteers are doing. Come with a friend or even bring a couple of people!

1525 Newton St NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 737-9311

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