No one would ever describe volunteering for Urban Ministry Center as a ‘day at the beach,’ but that’s exactly what our coordinators hoped to treat our most valued partners to at the annual volunteer appreciation dinner, April 22.
The annual event gives volunteers a chance to be served and loved on by our staff, enjoy time with their UMC volunteer friends, and meet new people with the same passion and fortitude for working with people in crisis, those experiencing homelessness. The reliable highlights of the evening always include the photo booth, Soup Kitchen Director Sandra Smith’s cooking—she loves creating a new, plentiful menu to match the theme each year, and the tshirt—always a new color and a new quote. This year’s cheerful yellow shirt features a quote from Paul Coelho, “When you are on the right path, the universe conspires to help you.”
Stories replaced the game as the activity this year and the first story of the evening was shared by staff member Lauren Cranford who began as a volunteer. One day wiping tables in the soup kitchen, she decided she would pray for the person she thought needed it most. She said that day it was easy to spot the neediest person. He had long hair, dirty clothes, and no one wanted to sit next to him. She introduced herself, “I’m Lauren.” He responded, “Dennis,” and a wonderful relationship blossomed. Over time, in addition to praying for him, Lauren really got to know Dennis, advocate for him and just let him know she cared about him. His story ended in housing and Lauren helped him get there.
Little did he know when he hopped on a train from Charlotte to Baltimore that his path would end up in the Urban Ministry Center laundry room, but that’s just where you will find Frankie Sims every Wednesday morning. He happened to meet Executive Director Dale Mullennix on that train and Dale’s description of the service here stuck in his mind so that when he retired, Urban Minsitry Center was his first thought. In the laundry room he demonstrates love for the neighbors with the pride he takes in his work and the smiling, enthusiastic greeting he has for each person who enters the laundry room. Now, after years of watching her husband get so excited about coming to UMC, Frankie’s wife Carolyn has become a regular Wednesday volunteer as well!
Volunteer Counselor Angie Ford talked of how her work has helped her become an advocate for the homeless; and of marriage proposals, but that’s a separate story all together. One moment that stands out for her was working with a man who came to her for help and after 25 minutes of checking resources, brainstorming, and combing the internet, she still had no solution for his problem. She felt awful and apologized for being unable to help him. His response surprised and touched her, “you listened to me, and I watched you work hard to find a solution, and that HAS helped me.”
Several other volunteers shared their stories—some were funny, some sad, but all showed a great caring and compassion for our neighbors that includes being present and really loving the people and the path that includes homelessness. And let me tell you, that is NOT a day at the beach.
Just for fun, a few more photo booth pics: