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 Stories of Hope emails and our Volunteer Spotlight series.
Mariah, our Communications Coordinator, sat down with Jennifer to learn more about why she got involved with us and how others can get started. Jennifer dedicates her time to helping with workforce development, serving breakfast during our morning program, sorting and distributing coats this winter, and everything in between. She’s a strong supporters of all things Thrive DC, read more about her story below!
How did you first hear about Thrive DC?
I was looking for volunteer opportunities and specifically in this Columbia Heights area, I live in the neighborhood. I thought, if I’m going to do something—I’ll do it in my local community. I started googling and Thrive DC came up! I read more about the programs and it checked my boxes of where I wanted to spend time volunteering. There’s so many organizations that are quite big in downtown or northeast but I wanted the community connection, to be able to have more interactions with people and get to know them better. When I moved into this neighborhood, I read a lot about St.Stephens Church and its history. I’m not religious but it’s been a big progressive force in the neighborhood. It felt more like a hub for social action with several non-profits in this space.
What made you interested in volunteering with us?
I knew that homelessness and economic insecurity is a big problem in DC, I think specifically—per capita DC has one of the highest rates of homelessness. My interest also grew out of learning about the women’s program. There’s quite a diversity of programs that Thrive DC offers and even just basics you don’t think about like being able to use this building as a postal address. It all seems very well thought out and has some history as well, Thrive DC is a community as well as a resource.
What have been some highlights or a moment that stood out to you so far?
It’s nice getting to know the clients and it feels good when they recognize you. I like having a chat and talking about our days. The coat drives were quite good. It’s a big operation and when it all goes swimmingly, everyone is happy and gets something tangible—it’s a good feeling!
What does a typical volunteer shift look like for you? What areas or tasks do you usually help with?
I’ve helped with the employment program, assisting people with their resumes and applying for jobs. I started becoming a regular morning program shift volunteer, signing people in and helping set up, serving breakfast, and getting things ready in the kitchen. I’ll also help with prep for fresh food friday. I’ve done a couple of the coat sorting night. Massive amounts of coats and accessories! I helped during the winter warmth coat distribution days.
What are your passions in the community? What inspired you to be a hyper-local volunteer in DC?
I moved here last year from London with my husband and since I’ve been here, I couldn’t work right away. I was looking for meaningful things to occupy my time. I was looking for things to do in the local community especially for a place that provides such a home base for people.There are things you might not think about it, it’s important that there’s a level of continuity or certainty in life when everything else is very uncertain. That’s something that was really important to me.In London, there was a local food bank we did some volunteering with before. I think it’s important to be connected to your community because it’s more personal and fulfilling to me. If someone is staying in a shelter, there’s always the question of where to go during the day. It’s important that there’s a computer lab, someone to help with getting food assistance, and having that place that’s reliable and accessible as a community hub. It provides a sense of stability.
What would you tell someone who was interested in volunteering with us or just starting?
Be relaxed and open to getting to know clients. Don’t bring any preconceived notions of what homelessness is or ‘looks like’. I think it’s so nice to chat with so many different people who have their own lived experiences. Mostly just be open to talking and getting to know people here!