I have been volunteering with EGH for five months, and today is my last day. I started out in the kitchen with Valerie, I now work the front desk. I am a senior at the University of Washington in their Public Health program, and part of our capstone is to work at a pre-approved site in Seattle. I enjoy working with women, I live right next door so volunteering here just made sense.
As the front desk person I welcome clients in, I connect them with different resources or services. It’s very important to keep track of who is coming in and who is leaving.
I have lived next door for four years, and this has opened my eyes to what is actually going on in my own neighborhood. It’s easy to not see similarities between people who are different from us. In my organized house next door, I live with 14 other women and it’s so interesting how many similarities there are. Our casual conversations, the ways we as women care for one another, our own social needs. Those things don’t change whether you’re homeless or not.
Working with Valerie in the kitchen was the highlight of my week- seeing how she worked with women, how she treated the kitchen as a peaceful place, a sanctuary. I felt the effects of that peacefulness too. The front desk is very different but I took what Valerie did with the kitchen and brought that to the front desk. I make everyone feel welcome.
After graduation, I will head to Colorado Springs to work for Young Life in their HR department. I have learned how to communicate with so many different populations. I have learned how to work quickly through times of commotion. I’m excited to see how I will apply all of that at Young Life. I’m excited and hopeful to come back to Seattle to see how EGH has changed and how my front desk role has changed.
I interact with clients every week and I am both overwhelmed by their needs but impressed by how much EGH is able to provide. Just their gift of a shower, a hot meal and a place to rest is so much more than they could ever imagine. EGH is different because unlike other shelters where women are required to be working towards housing or employment, at EGH you are not required to be working towards something. The services are there but it’s up to the women to take advantage of them so it’s so much more empowering and effective.
I would tell the next front desk person to be aware that there are so many things going on in these women’s lives, so many changes during the day, they need to rest, and we are the people who start that process by being as helpful as possible. We engage, ask how they are doing, and offer a welcoming smile. If things become escalated around this front door area, we need to de-escalate. This job is so important.
My teams at the UW and I research populations that might need these homeless resources. We look at different policies and interventions for women experiencing homelessness or unstably housing, drugs and substance abuse as well as mental health. One of the big things the research has shown is a lack of resources- a lack of housing, healthcare, and social support (i.e.- domestic violence support) for women.
I was surprised by the relationships that I’ve built. I wasn’t expecting to build friendships with other staff or getting to know clients and learn their names. Sometimes people don’t have much but are willing to share their name which is sometimes all they have. So that’s very special.