Our Monthly Volunteer Spotlight series thought it could sneak away summer vacation, but because we have so many incredible volunteers, we’re going to bring you two spotlights in July. For the first, meet Noelle, who has been a volunteer with Central City Concern for more than one-and-a-half years. Her time with us is winding down as she heads off to start her Master of Social Work program at Portland State University, but we feel immensely grateful to have worked with her!
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Name: Noelle Al-Musaifry
Position: Arts and crafts group facilitator in CCC's supportive housing program
What are your volunteer duties?
On paper, I’m responsible for putting together an art project during each arts and craft group. I explain what we’re doing and how each participant can get to an end product. I gather up materials, bring them to group, and we have fun.
That’s what I technically do. I think that the most important thing that I do is just being a person who will consistently listen to them and give positive feedback and encouragement. Interacting positively with the participants… I think that’s appreciated.
I really wanted to create an environment where people feel safe enough to take the emotional risks needed to make art. I think that can be difficult for a lot of folks. The participants often say to me “I’m not a creative person” and “I’m not an artist” and “I can’t even draw a straight line” – so I think people need encouragement around that.
What drew you to volunteer at Central City Concern?
I have a family member who was in a situation in which she could possibly have benefited from CCC services. Ultimately it wasn’t the right fit, but in doing research to find an organization that could provide help, I came across Central City Concern. The more I learned about what CCC was doing, I was sold.
I think that CCC is probably one of the cornerstones of Portland that makes me love this city. The mission [to end homelessness and help people achieve self-sufficiency] is important work and I wanted to be some part of it.
What did you expect when you first started volunteering?
Like I said, I knew I wanted to be a part of what CCC was doing in the community. When I approached CCC about volunteering, the skill set I had wasn’t 100% directly correlated to the mission, I don't think. My background is in science, and I did some dance, and a little bit of art, but not that much.
When I started, I think my biggest hope was to create community around the mission and the people being served by it, the people who were working hard to find stability, work on their recovery, things like that. It took a while, but it slowly emerged.
What have you learned during your time volunteering?
I’ve learned a lot more about the particular struggles and journeys of the individuals CCC works with.
I heard from some of the people who have come to the arts and crafts group about the obstacles they were facing to start over and thrive. I saw a lot of the struggles my family member has gone through reflected in the residents and vice versa. Those struggles are a lot more universal than I thought. I didn’t know that would be the case when I started volunteering.
While I volunteered, I also really solidified my decision to pursue work like this. I had been thinking about pursuing a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, but I wasn’t sure. It was risky and I had a lot of doubts.
But after seeing up close the importance of this work that needs to be done, I’m not hesitating to jump into it. This is work that needs to be done. I could be better qualified and I could have more to offer by pursuing an MSW.
Is there a particular experience that will stick with you?
I feel like I’ve become invested in the progress (often non-linear!) of some of the folks I’ve worked with. There’s one person in particular I feel like had a big impact on me. He was the first art group participant who showed up consistently. I don’t know what it was, but he was ready to work. Maybe not always ready to talk, but ready to work and create. I think he was bringing that same attitude to his recovery groups, too.
After some amount of time, he decided that I was trustworthy enough to talk with, and I know that can be a difficult decision for people who have endured hardships and trauma. I feel like we got close over the months.
He ended up moving into more permanent housing, and I had the privilege of being a reference for him. He’s working now and progressing in his goals and sobriety.
When you meet someone, you never really know off the bat who they are or how your relationship is going to turn out or unfold, and I feel really grateful to know him. It’s amazing.
What advice would you give to someone apprehensive about volunteering?
There’s a lot to be gained from removing your ego when you walk in to volunteer.
Many people are facing battles that feel Sisyphean, and so, understandably, it might be hard for them to always be happy or polite. And as a volunteer, you might be on the receiving end of that. But if you can check your ego at the door and be kind and empathetic to people anyway, then get in there and be a positive presence. It speaks volumes.
Any parting thoughts on your time with us?
This sounds so cliché, but it has been such an incredibly rewarding experience. I feel like I’ve undergone some real personal growth in understanding issues like addiction and poverty by listening and being present. I’m so grateful.
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Noelle's dedication to showing up and helping our residents engage in creative expression has made a big impact on our community. Thank you, Noelle, for being a part of our work. All of us here are sending you best wishes as you start your MSW program!