When a woman comes down the steps of our Day Center and into the welcoming arms of Elizabeth Gregory Home (EGH), the first person she meets is the receptionist at the front desk. Clients who are greeted with the friendly face of a person who listens and patiently answers questions is the best possible introduction to EGH and the services available. Being that welcoming first person is an important role that sets the tone for further interactions.
Mary Gillmore decided to take on that role because a friend who volunteered at EGH told her about the work we do and the satisfaction of being part of the volunteer team. Mary’s professional background in social work and social psychology gave her a clear understanding of many of the issues confronting women that can lead to homelessness.
Having served as Associate Dean at the University of Washington and as Director of the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, Mary also knew the importance of providing a safety net and services for people in immediate need of support. Her earlier career as a nurse made her acutely aware of the impact of being homeless on an individual’s physical and emotional health.
As that welcoming person at the front desk, Mary assisted clients in many important ways – by securing bus tickets that enable them to get to EGH, an overnight shelter, or a job interview; by scheduling appointments with staff or external resources; by scheduling access to in-house washers and dryers that are in high demand; and by listening with empathy. Staying busy was never a problem since the receptionist also handles the periodic arrival of donations of clothing and other essential items such as laundry pods, feminine hygiene items, or hair care products.
Why give up free time, why not enjoy filling a well-earned retirement with other activities? Mary’s response to this question was what so many of our volunteers say: “I wanted to give back to my community. I always felt I should be giving back, something that perhaps grew out of my early education where there was a strong emphasis on helping others.” Not volunteering was not an option for Mary who had worked previously with a literacy program.
With a recent relocation to a new home that is somewhat distant from EGH, Mary will once again retire, this time with the satisfaction of having given what she could, when she could, to a cause she knew was worth her time and energy – helping vulnerable women. We are grateful for the many hours she contributed to make EGH a place we are proud to have in our community, a place dedicated to meeting the needs of women who are homeless.