Q: How are you involved with the shelter? How long?
A: I am currently Chair of the Torres Board of Directors. I’ve been on the board for a little less than two years (joined in December of 2014) and have been Chair since last October. I’ve also been part of a meal provider group, a group of friends and neighbors, that has been serving on the third Monday of the month for the past eight years.
Q: What motivates you to volunteer at Torres Shelter?
A: When my wife and I pulled together a group of friends and neighbors to put our good-intentions into actual action by serving a meal once a month at the shelter, I thought it was the right thing to do and that it would be a task I could chalk up every month in the “Good for me” column. After the very first time we prepped and served our meal, I came to understand what volunteers nearly always learn: this is a very personal experience and it is more rewarding to the person serving (me) than to the person being served. This has stuck with me and it’s all it takes to keep me coming back. Cooking and serving food is an easy thing, easier than what many, many other volunteers do at Torres, but it is a wonderfully tangible way to make a small difference in someone’s life. The motivation is the smile or the nod from the guest in line whose evening got just a little better because they have a full plate.
Q: How has your definition of homelessness changed with your experience at Torres Shelter?
A: I’m not sure that it is different, but it is much, much broader. The cliché is that any of us are just a paycheck, or a bad string of terrible luck, away from joining the people who are being helped at Torres. And while that cliché is true, it could be any of us, there are aspects of homelessness that I didn’t really understand or appreciate until I started spending some time at the shelter. The lack of privacy has been the most eye-opening thing for me. It is enormously hard to maintain one’s dignity and sense of self when homeless, it seems to me. And on top of that homeless people are living their lives exposed. Not just to the elements, as bad as that is, but to the eyes and ears of others. That has to wear on people in ways that I can only begin to imagine. So my definition is broader: being homeless is hard, hard work and it is tiring and it often includes giving up the dignity of privacy. Recovering private space – that seems to me to be one of the great treasures of getting into a home.
Q: Big or small, what is your most memorable interaction at Torres Shelter?
A: I could pick many moments that have happened at Torres. Observing the dedication of the staff, being able to serve a person in a wheelchair with a child in her lap a second helping of baked chicken, helping with the process of handing out shower tokens… But my most memorable moment happened away from Torres. It was at a rock-n-roll fund-raiser being put on entirely by local teenagers. Even though I used to think I was cool, the music was loud and not my style. The bands and the crowd were young and dressed in goth and studs and though they were young and good kids, they were a bit intimidating. But they had chosen to put on the event to benefit Torres. When I got the chance to say a few words of thanks during a break and I mentioned that one of the guests at Torres that very night was 18 months old, there was a bit of a gasp in the crowd; these teenagers were full of respect and dedication and heart. The $600 they raised that night was probably not nearly as important as the fact that they were demonstrating that they cared about the people in their community most in need. It was awesome and I’ll never forget it.
Q: We are always trying to bridge the gap between guest, community, and Torres Shelter. What would you like to see added to our services?
A: I would love to have more space to house families with as much dignity and comfort as is possible. And more space for counseling. And more space to serve those suffering various addictions. More space, more space, more space. And I’d like to see our staff recognized throughout the community as the skilled professionals that they are who do extraordinary things in the face of great odds earning far less than they deserve.
Q: If you could send one message about Torres Shelter and what we do to our community, what would it be?
A: I would simply like to see more of our community, individuals and businesses, civic leaders and volunteers, get involved. When people come to the shelter for the first time, they quickly come to understand that Torres is not really a shelter at all. It’s not a cavernous cold hall where people are warehoused. It is a place where people engage in a rigorous process of recovery. It is a place where real work is done by both staff and guests in partnership toward growth and success. I would like every community leader, every business owner, every entrepreneur and person who has achieved much in their life, to come to Torres for a tour and then maybe stay for an extra hour in the early evening. If everyone in our community saw what takes place at Torres every day, 365 days a year, year after year, they’d come to understand what we’ve adopted as our words to live by: Torres isn’t a place where you end up, it’s where you start again. We didn’t adopt those words just so we could print them on a mailer. The people at Torres believe them and they live them every day.