When Paul Winterhalter was a child, his father told him something he’s never forgotten: Whenever you leave a room in the house, make sure you leave that room a little cleaner than it was when you went inside.
In 2009, he moved to Charlotte from Pittsburgh and joined the staff at the Emergency Winter Shelter on Statesville Avenue, just as it was merging with the Uptown Men’s Shelter to become the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte. “I’ll do that for a season, until I get acclimated to the area,” he remembers thinking. But shelter work turned out to be something of a perfect fit for his background in ministry and hospitality.
There was, he realized, a direct connection to his prior years of work in churches and hotels. “When you’re working in a hotel, there’s a standard and a quality of service that you provide for each guest,” he says. “Who’s paying for the room doesn’t matter. Oftentimes, it’s not the person who’s staying in the room that’s paying for the room.” But the guest, he says, still expects to have a comfortable stay, and the people who are providing the funds expect a certain level of professionalism and value.
And so, he found his place working at the front desk, ensuring guests felt welcomed, and ensuring their stay provided a “safe, decent, appropriate and temporary solution to their housing dilemma.” He felt at home within the hospitality arm of the organization, knowing his colleagues in housing, employment and healthcare navigation were helping guests set and achieve their longer-term goals.
In 2017, he moved on to explore another calling, a career in farming, but his journey led him back to the shelter in 2019. After several years working the overnight shift, he’s now working days with a greater focus on data quality.
Decades after hearing his father’s words, he can see the way they gave him a sort of framework for his life’s dedication to singleness, service and simplicity. “I have no interest in changing the world or even making a big impact,” he says. “I’m just trying to make sure wherever I am is a little better than it was when I got there.”