How Volunteerism Changes People

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dale Noonkester’s job is to understand the needs of those who live at Central City Concern’s Martha Washington supportive housing community. As their Resident Service Coordinator, she helps residents find and build upon daily successes. She is also known across CCC as someone who is incredibly adept at fostering a sense of community; she’s deeply in tune with her residents.

After talking with two of the great volunteers who give their time at the Martha Washington, we thought it would be worthwhile to ask Dale about the volunteers she works with, why she values them, and what message volunteerism sends to those who live at the Martha Washington.

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I love volunteers.

For one thing, I’ve always enjoyed being a volunteer. You feel like you have purpose. You learn. So having been on that side, I can understand what a volunteer wants and needs when they’re giving their time. 

I worked a lot with volunteers at a previous job. I actually helped to take that volunteer program from three people and turn it into a volunteer force of 72. When they started talking about closing down some of the services, we had 72 volunteers going “NO! DON’T DO THAT!” So I learned that a big thing about volunteerism is that they quickly recognize and value what the organization does. They help you build community support.

I also saw volunteers gain a better understanding of the situations people you’re serving face. It gives them a different understanding, moving away from “why don’t they just…” toward understanding how complicated their lives can be. And maybe more importantly, that perspective gets disseminated to their personal networks.

Our volunteers at the Martha Washington bring a lot of energy and love and support, especially to folks who don’t believe they’re understood. The population at the Martha Washington is so diverse. The volunteers gets to learn about a whole different world. When you see someone with schizophrenia on the street, yes, it can be scary. But when you meet them and work with them, they’re not so scary. You get a better understanding.

When a volunteer comes in, residents believe that they’re important and valued enough to have someone spend time with them. It changes people. And honestly, it happens on both sides.

Like [volunteer] Janet—she does a lot especially around Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition with us now. We go to WinCo and she buys the supplies for a Thanksgiving dinner. To bring that back to the building and show them that this is how much she cares, it’s huge!

And there’s Reese. People here find him so engaging and are always excited to hear about his ideas. They love when he comes to play pool with them. I’ve shared before that the basement when Reese comes to play pool becomes full of residents coming together, having fun, and getting to know each other in a whole new way.

Our residents love doing art projects with Anne, especially because she’s got great communications skills and boundaries and shows so much respect to our residents. When I say that Anne’s going to be here, everyone gets excited.

The residents can see that somebody cares who’s not getting paid to care. Someone wants to come and then they want to come back? That consistency is huge and it makes a difference. For our residents to see people come back over and over, it’s empowering to them.

I am so thankful that our volunteers continue to come back and bring their enthusiasm, their energy, their commitment to our space and to help make our space more connected. They energize us. They really do.