March 30, 2014

The Shelter Network: Walking into a Life Boost Workshop

By Shelly Welch

When you volunteer, you give yourself a moment to experience someone else's life.  That's why we volunteer. We find that no matter what we thought or expected walking in, we leave the experience transformed. We want to feel that we were able to make an impact. 

The Shelter Network committee facilitates League members to lead Life Boost workshops with the women and men who live in two local shelters in the Innvision Shelter Network--Haven House in Menlo Park and First Steps for Families in San Mateo. The workshops are short, only an hour, and divided into short segments of time, career, and money management. 

"What struck me most about the group who attended my session was how diverse it was- single mothers and their babies, middle-aged women, couples, and young adults.  I quickly realized that there was no cookie cutter advice that would pertain to each person but what was important was starting a conversation and taking 20 minutes to focus on career development.  The group shared with each other what was working or not working for them and gave each other advice that was specific to their situation.  Several out of the group wrote down tips and went away with new ideas for landing jobs or moving up from their current positions.   While none of us has all the answers, listening to each other and learning from others’ successes and failures is certainly a step in the right direction," says Stephanie Piecewicz of her experience.

"They have been offered jobs, but biggest struggle for them is finding one that will coincide with availability of their childcare options (and there are not a lot of options).  They are on wait-lists for affordable childcare but unfortunately the lists are years long.  Many of them want to return to school and were discussing financial aid opportunities (FAFSA) and other options to get them there.  It was clear they are taking advantage of every opportunity that comes their way and are doing their best to make a better life for themselves," says Nicolette Frink of her experience in the workshops. 

Imagine you are in an in-between moment. We all have them. These are moments between jobs or between apartments. These moments are stressful. They test us and our relationships with our families and friends. For many, these moments are only moments. We have an innate sense of a next step. We have a sense of a safety net, however strong or tenuous, and understand that no matter what that we can move forward. 

Now imagine an in-between moment with no next step. Now compound that with an environment where having a job does not guarantee that you can afford a place to live. Add a small child whose care makes it difficult for you to obtain a job.  Add an addiction, physical ailment or mental illness. It would be difficult to face every day.

As volunteers, our experiences vary immensely. “My first time working one of the instructional sessions for Shelter Network was intimidating.  I couldn’t pretend to be an expert in the topic that I was assigned, Careers, and wondered how I could possibly make a real difference to anybody,” says Stephanie. Sometimes we are leading workshops but aren’t so great at budgeting or time management, and we’re the ones taking notes. Sometimes, though, we can inspire. Sometimes we know exactly the right advice or the right venue that could really help a person achieve their dream. Mostly, though, we’re the ones coming away inspired. “It was very inspiring to see these women who with baby in hand, living in a shelter, but are not giving up on themselves or their families,” says Nicolette. “It almost felt selfish that I am volunteering my time, yet I am the one who leaves feeling uplifted and inspired. Interesting right?”