Well hello there, my name is Donna. It’s so nice to meet you!
I’d like to share a little bit about Safe Haven Family Shelter and “our” story. Safe Haven is the only “family” shelter in Nashville, where a family can stay together. I started volunteering there about 10 years ago. Compared to many, many people, my level of volunteering is actually pretty weak. I mean they have these amazing super-volunteers who stay overnight once a week or more and give so much more of their time and energy…all I do is show up once a month (along with other volunteers from Hands On Nashville) and bring dinner. But it’s so awesome!
I am naturally an introvert, but I love to cook for people, so this has always been the perfect opportunity for me. Volunteers from all different types of groups and organizations provide meals for Safe Haven 365 nights a year. Hands On Nashville has two nights each month and one of them is mine to coordinate. I have a couple of “regulars” who normally sign up to help, then usually a couple of newbies will sign up. The new volunteers are always fun, because I’m sure most show up there a little nervous, with no idea what to expect. They get to meet people, learn about the program, and leave with a new enthusiasm. Safe Haven is not at all what you would picture when you think “homeless shelter”. It may be temporary, but it is still a “home”.
For the most part, residents of Safe Haven are just like you and me. They are not chronically homeless, they just hit hard times and got to the point they couldn’t bounce back on their own. Maybe they were working hard, but just barely getting by, when their car breaks down. Without transportation, they can’t get to work, lose their job, can’t pay rent, can’t afford to get the car fixed, can’t get a job without a car, get evicted…just a vicious downward spiral. Safe Haven gives them an opportunity to get back on their feet and learn ways to manage their families more efficiently. Families who complete the Safe Haven program have a very high success rate. Many of them have been so thankful for the opportunity that they have come back as volunteers. I can only imagine how unnerving it would be to move your family and belongings into a shelter, but then how comforting to talk to someone who had been in your exact position, made it through, and is now thriving.
My three favorite things about dinner at Safe Haven are the volunteers, the residents, and the food. I have met so many interesting people who came to volunteer over the years…college students, single parents, ministers, attorneys, chefs…you name it. I’ve also made several friends, including one of my very best friends! People usually have a specific reason for volunteering and leave feeling better than when they got there.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m an introvert. Sometimes it’s challenging for me to strike up conversations with people, but something I’ve noticed is no matter who I eat dinner across from that night, we will find something in common. Last week, I was chatting with a cool teenage girl about her choice to not eat meat (I did that for five years.) Other times common ground has been religion or families or careers or favorite foods. Everyone has a story, sometimes you just have to ask a few questions to get to it.
Finally…FOOD. We always have good food! Sometimes we’ll do Mexican Fiesta and sometimes we go more traditional and have chicken breasts, beef roast, or pork tenderloin. Mmm…makes me hungry to think about it!
Okay, enough about me. What about you? Do you volunteer? If so, what is your story? And if not, what is holding you back?