Nine caring individuals and groups were honored Saturday, July 24th, 2021, by New Hope Housing at our Annual Volunteer Celebration Lunch for their service to their homeless neighbors. Samantha Smyth, New Hope Housing’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, kicked off the ceremony by sharing impressive facts about volunteer this past year. Due to pandemic restrictions, volunteers had not been allowed onsite at any shelters between March 13, 2020, and July 1st, 2021. Despite, this more than 400 volunteers served more than 5,000 hours and provided 55,000 meals for homeless shelter guests, as well as volunteering virtually as game night hosts and mentors.
Debi & Eric Schilling of Alexandria were named Co-Volunteers of the year. They began volunteering in April 2020 after responding to online ads seeking volunteers to prepare meals for the then-recently opened COVID-19 alternate shelter sites. Debi and Eric began making 50-80 bagged lunches at least 3 times a month and continue to do so for that shelter and for Bailey’s Shelter in Falls Church. All told, by June 2021, they had prepared over 1,000 lunches.
Debi also signed up to be a virtual “Coffee and Conversations” volunteer, in which a volunteer is matched with a shelter guest to chat via zoom. This project was begun during the first few months of the pandemic to help shelter guests cope with the isolating effects of the shutdown providing a listening ear and support to shelter guests via Zoom. She is currently preparing to do these in-person with restrictions lifted at shelter. Debi and Eric have also begun recruiting friends and neighbors to donate items for Welcome Home Baskets which are given to shelter guests when they move to their own housing. Everyone at New Hope Housing is grateful that Debi and Eric found us and chose to make New Hope part of their lives!
Sheila Keshavarz of McLean received the Allie McConnell Youth Service award (named for an outstanding young woman who volunteered for children’s programs and passed away several years ago). Sheila organized a donation drive during December 2020 to collect gift cards for shelter guests. Instead of collecting a few cards, Sheila created a GoFundMe and asked friends and family to help reach her goal. Due to her persistence and creativity, Sheila raised $3,000 – an impressive amount for anyone much less an 8th grader. Sheila has continued to volunteer by gathering friends to prepare bagged lunches for shelter guests. “Sheila’s Lunch Bunch” have been making lunches monthly since March 2021 and plan to continue to serve as they enter high school this fall.
The Nest Collective in Woodbridge was named Community Champion for their service and for representing the values of New Hope Housing in the community by creating new partnerships and opportunities. Founded in 2018 by Joen Schulz, The Nest Collective provides the comforts of home for vulnerable neighbors by collecting and distributing donations of gently used furniture to individuals and families who cannot financially afford them. Since they opened, they have helped numerous New Hope Housing guests furnish their new apartments after leaving shelter. Guests have never been turned down and have always been so pleased with the items they receive. With their service, they save countless hours of labor for the NHH Operations team, and have made many new neighbors feel at home.
Kelsey Pehrsson of Arlington County was named an Outstanding Volunteer for her service at Residential Program Center (RPC) in Arlington County. Kelsey and her bible study group from Redemption Hill Church began serving meals at RPC in April 2020, but Kelsey wished to do more. She then began serving as a “Coffee and Conversations” volunteer, providing a listening ear and support to shelter guests via Zoom. Kelsey participated in this project weekly for several months and helped a few shelter guests feel less lonely. She and her church also began a new project in 2021 called “Welcome Back” in which several volunteers set up a table outside the shelter with snacks and cold drinks to welcome shelter guests back from their day of work or appointments. They provide a lovely welcome and many guests stop to talk with friendly (masked) faces.
Solid Rock 7th Day Adventist was named an Outstanding Volunteer Group for their service at RPC in Arlington County. Solid Rock has been preparing and serving a hot breakfast at RPC for more than five years. RPC does not have a kitchen of its own, so many meals are made to reheat or bagged. The monthly Solid Rock hot breakfast includes many items to choose from, and is always very appreciated by guests. Solid Rock members have also made care packages for shelter staff to show their appreciation for doing this hard work during the pandemic as well. Special thanks was given to their project coordinator, Ms. Romana Lavalas.
Savatri Ramsamooj of Alexandria was named an Outstanding Volunteer for her service with Mother of Light Center, also in Alexandria. For several years, Savatri has been preparing and delivering incredible homecooked meals for all 52 guests at Bailey’s Shelter in Falls Church. In addition, they bring gently-used donated clothing that they have collected to create a free “pop-up clothing closet” each time they serve. Guests are allowed to choose any of the clothing they wish and are very grateful for this extra service.
Mother’s Kitchen was named an Outstanding Volunteer Group for their service at Bailey’s Shelter. Mother’s Kitchen of Northern Virginia is one chapter of an international network of charities which focus on causes such as hunger, education, public health, and more. Under their coordinator Bhanumathi Krishnan, Mother’s Kitchen has been preparing and serving meals at Bailey’s at least twice-a-month for over ten years. They also provide additional meals in the winter months for the extra shelter guests in hypothermia prevention programs.
Valencia Utley of Woodbridge was named an Outstanding Volunteer for her service at the Eleanor U. Kennedy Shelter in Ft. Belvoir both as herself and with her church, Unity Christian Fellowship International. Valencia has been volunteering since 2017, hosting cookouts and special events at Kennedy Shelter. She has also been making homecooked meals for the eight guests at Mondloch House, a shelter for adults with disabilities. During the pandemic she began making meals for the COVID-19 shelter site and hosted virtual Bingo Nights for guests at RPC Shelter. Valencia provided snacks and prizes for guests while calling numbers and sharing stories via Zoom. These Bingo Nights were a big hit with guests.
Pam Michell, executive director of New Hope Housing, thanked all volunteers and shared that the volunteer appreciation event has always been one of her favorite events. She was grateful to attend one more before her upcoming retirement on October 1, 2021. Pam’s parting message to this group was to not overlook the meaning of their contributions by sharing her favorite quote on volunteering: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
For more information on volunteering, please contact Sami at 703-799-2293 x 11 or firstname.lastname@example.org