From Guest Blogger: Shannon Steene, Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter
Make doing good fun!
It’s the slogan on my office wall. Maybe it’s corny, but it’s been my goal for my tenure as the Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter. I think overall, it’s been happening.
Has it always felt fun to be here? No. Decidedly not. Our everyday work with people in housing crisis is…draining, emotional, fraught with tension and gives an up-close view on how people react when everything has crumbled. That’s not pretty. Many nights I go home tired mentally and often physically.
And yet, there is beauty and a lightness to what we do. I don’t know how that can be, but it’s true. It’s also some of the most rewarding work that I have ever done. I’ve always said that this role gives me the best seat in the house to see Alexandria’s generosity. More than 1,200 volunteers roll up their sleeves and pitch in to power our work and mission, hundreds of donor households contribute each year to help us pay the bills, and our board and staff show an unbelievable belief in our ability to live out our mission.
Amid all of that, I see people having fun. It isn’t necessarily fun in the “haha” sense, but rather a joy and an exuberance in what we together are creating – a respite for people who have nowhere else to go. I see people showing care and compassion for our neighbors in need. There is irony that some of the rewards motivating our volunteers are doing an unsavory job for which they are not paid. I remember the volunteer group of highly educated professionals that offered “to do whatever was needed, as long as they didn’t have to think” while doing it. I watched them wiping down and sanitizing sleeping mats used by our winter shelter guests and had to smile. What’s more, they did the task while smiling. As requested, they’d been given a task that didn’t require thought. They loved it.
That’s business as usual here at the shelter. To borrow a phrase from infomercial king and inventor Ron Popeil, “but wait, there’s more!”
For the last five years, we’ve layered an additional (and massive) group project on top of our usual work – building a new shelter. It has involved an impressive parade of industry professionals familiar with real estate development coming in, calling and logging on to help us figure out how to plan a new space, broker a partnership with the owners of the Landmark mall, coordinate with a contractor to build out a wide-open sales floor into a temporary location, as well as working some tedious tasks such as drafting legal agreements and reviewing contracts…all of this service accomplished as volunteers and board members.
There has also been the cavalcade of people bringing food to our temporary location which has no official kitchen but still has shelter residents that need to be fed. On so many levels this project shouldn’t be coming along as well as it has, and we should have stumbled much more frequently to get to this point, but as I’m typing this we are less than one month away from loading up moving trucks and occupying our new purpose-built shelter.
And then there is the COVID-19 pandemic, and all the disruption the virus has brought to our lives. Could that be “fun”? As we lived through massive upheaval in what we do and who we serve in order to keep people safe, we heard a pretty consistent refrain from our supporters. They thanked us for what we were doing, knowing that our doors couldn’t close. They kept asking what they could do. Amid the fear and uncertainty, they missed the “fun”, the feeling of connection to our collective work, and they rallied quickly around new and different tasks.
Some of you reading this know and have felt the fun of doing good at Carpenter’s Shelter. You’ve served meals, volunteered at the front desk, and engaged in various other ways. I’m grateful for that. For the rest of you, consider this an open invitation to put a little more fun in your life. Click here for an overview of how to volunteer at the shelter. There are lots of ways to make it fun!
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog