Say “Hi” to Kelsey – a new volunteer at New Hope Housing this year who recently chatted with us about one of our latest activities: “Coffee & Conversations.” This activity pairs a volunteer with a shelter guest to chat for half an hour on Zoom. Kelsey is originally from Fairfax County, studied business and music at the University of Texas and now works for MasterCard.
Kelsey began volunteering with New Hope Housing this year with members of her church. The Redemption Hill Church – West Arlington Community Group began by providing meals to the shelter. Shortly after the pandemic began and our onsite volunteer opportunities were suspended, they responded by purchasing meals from local restaurants to donate to shelter – helping in more ways than one.
Not long after, Kelsey saw an email from Sami, our Manager of Volunteer Programs, describing a new online volunteer opportunity: Zoom calls with shelter guests. She was intrigued and signed up for the training. She told us that if this had been an onsite activity before the pandemic, she might not have been able to do it. The extra time to travel to and from the shelter may have been too much of a time commitment, but “hopping on a call to talk and help make someone’s day sounds great. I’m on calls all the time anyway – I can do this!”
What Was it like at First?
“I had participated in the online training. I thought it was helpful and framed the service opportunity well. Sami spoke about types of conversations that might happen and how to prepare yourself.
I was a little nervous at first, hoping I wouldn’t say anything wrong or triggering, but was amazed at how quickly we were able to just chat. It was just so pleasant. “J” and I have great conversations.
“J” is a friend now, a person outside of my bubble that I would never have otherwise gotten to speak with. It seemed like a really cool way to have more community. And he’s been so fun to talk to.”
Were You Nervous to Talk to A Stranger?
“Luckily, I do have a lot of experience talking to strangers on the phone so that wasn’t a worry for me. But I was certainly a little bit nervous not knowing what to expect. Donald (the RPC Volunteer Coordinator) was on the call at first to introduce us and then let us begin.
I imagine there are some calls that don’t go the same way, some may be harder to get going, or where perhaps the client is in a little more difficult of a position or something like that. But it was pretty straight-forward and easy after those first few minutes.”
What Would You Want Another Volunteer to Know When Getting Started?
“Remember that this is a conversation between you and another human being that’s your equal. Some of the folks you may talk to who are experiencing homelessness may need a little bit more time to build trust than another person who has not had the experiences that they have.”
She added that you should pace yourself. Build trust. Know that it may take time. At the time of interview, Kelsey had been doing this every Wednesday for 5 week and thinks that it probably works well to stay with the same person and to try to become a friend first.
“Remember that this is a conversation between you and another human being that’s your equal.”
Has There Been Anything Surprising? Any LOL Moments?
“It’s just been nice, friendly conversation. We have a lot in common. Grew up in the area, play instruments in bands, I’m in a basically software company and he’s a computer scientist.
One of the things I was surprised by – and other volunteers might be too – is just… how I wasn’t expecting someone who’s out of work but has an excellent education, and realistically could be doing a lot of cool jobs if just given the resources.”
She added that “J” does appear to be taking advantages of services at RPC and that he’s applying for jobs. Kelsey is impressed by how many resources are offered by shelter, staff, and the community and is looking forward to continuing to serve.
For more information on volunteering, please contact Sami at 703-799-2293 x 11 or firstname.lastname@example.org