More than Just Coffee and Conversation

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

For our first National Volunteer Week post, we’re calling back to this past February’s Volunteer Spotlight, where we singled out the work of some of the volunteers who give their time to the Letty Owings Center (LOC). June Hensala, one of the volunteers featured, spoke about how much it has meant to her to be able to take some of the LOC mothers out for coffee and conversation when they first arrive at LOC. While she said that she felt like, “the gain is really more on [her] part,” it’s clear that the benefit is not so one-sided.

A couple weeks ago, we had the chance to sit down with a current LOC client, Carly*, to talk with her about what it has meant to her to interact with volunteers like June and why it matters so much that they keep coming back.

*name changed to protect privacy

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Carly, a Letty Owings Center client, shares what it means to her to have volunteers spend Saturday mornings with her over coffee and conversation.Peter: So you’ve gotten to go out for coffee with some volunteers before?

Carly: Probably like three or four times now.

P: Are you a coffee drinker? Or do you prefer lattes or cappuccinos?

C: Yeah, I’m a coffee drinker for sure, and they usually give us a pastry also. And a lot of good conversation. It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us. They take us out and get us whatever we want and they just talk to us. They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental. They’re very, very sweet ladies.

P: How is it different or more special to have volunteer do that, rather than a staff member?

C: Just knowing that somebody cares. To see that from a stranger is really cool. Like, they want to know about your background, they want to give you advice. I remember one time I went, they asked me if I know who the “M and M presidents” were and I didn’t at the time, but it’s Madison and Monroe and it’s stuck with me ever since.

P: Were they back-to-back, is that why they’re the M and M presidents?

C: Yeah, fourth and fifth, I believe. And they came again so many months later and I told them I remembered and that just warmed their hearts that we pay attention.

P: You mentioned talking about your background with the volunteers. I wonder if you would mind sharing what that is?

C: I come from a life of basically prostitution and drugs; most of my family used drugs. I had a son about a year ago and I moved to Arizona to have him and under some pretty horrible circumstances I came back [to Portland] and he was taken from me. So, I really only had one option, which was to come to treatment [at Letty Owings Center].

When I first started here it was mainly for him, but then the longer I stayed the longer I realized that there’s more to life and it’s worth it.

"It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us.... They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental."

P: Has having things like people taking you out for coffee been a part of that experience? Having something extra?

C: Yeah, it makes me want to lend a hand where help is needed, because that’s typically what it is here. It’s not about the coffee, it’s not about the treats. A lot of it is supposed to be for the newer girls since you don’t get to do very much at all when you first come in to treatment [editor’s note: LOC clients spend the first few weeks at LOC focusing on recovery activities]. They take you out for a nice treat and they take you out for a decent amount of time and they make you feel good.

P: And when I spoke to those volunteers, what they really liked was that they get to talk with younger people. Has it been nice on your side to sit down with someone who is different from you in that way?

C: Absolutely! They offer so much knowledge! Their stories about when they were our age, it’s just great.

P: Do you have a favorite story that you remember one of them telling you?

C: There’s a lady, her name is Phyllis, and she’s just the funniest woman ever. She said when she was younger, she had this job filling Easter baskets and she ended up stuffing every third candy bar up her skirt. When she got on the bus to go home they all melted and they ended up firing her from the job on her second day because she was eating all the candy bars.

P: And would there be anything that you want to say to the volunteers about what it has meant to have them come?

C: Yeah. Thank you dearly, and keep coming back. Keep coming back because it gives the new girls something to look forward to and it means a lot to us that people have experienced our presence and keep coming back.

P: That they weren’t scared away?

C: Yeah, exactly.