Meet Our Current and Recent Volunteers
The Westmoreland Volunteer Corps is an outreach program of the Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ. Each year the church brings five young adults to the Washington, DC, area to live in our Volunteer House and serve in agencies that work in advocacy for and service to those in need. The emphasis is on service and simple living in community. The agencies where the Volunteers work furnish them with a monthly stipend (for food, housing and modest personal expenses), health insurance and a commuting allowance. The Volunteer may be able to defer payments for college loans, and may be able to participate in the AmeriCorps Education Awards Program which provides awards that may be used to repay student loans or help pay the cost of graduate school.
Left to right: Stacey Jones, Sarah Roper, Ally Higdon, Benjamin Rosado, and Bekah Mynatt
Left to right: Ashley Crawford, Carla Bes, Scarlett Johnson, Christa Heilman, Matt Leasure
Left to right:Sabrina Vasa, Allison Young, Lindsay Wallace, Kirsten Wittkowski, Chloe Sidley
Left to right: Hannah Campell Gustafson, Sarah Adamson, Eva Foegeding, Kara Johnson, and Laura Shatzer
Left to right: Charlotte Emigh, Noah Bein, Jennifer Cacace, Deanna Drake, and Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger
It is always rewarding to hear what our former volunteers are doing. We heard from so many this year that it is impossible to include all their information for this newsletter. Please go to www. Westmorelanducc.org. and click on the Volunteer Corps to find information about all the former volunteers who have written to us. Many of them have expressed their appreciation of the experiences they had in the WVC and how it influenced their career choices. As Dena Springer Novick (1999-2000) said: “I’m still singing praises about my year volunteering through WVC.”
Here is an excerpt from a letter from Rachel Cloud (2006-07) who is a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia:
“I am here to witness the contrasts, to learn and breathe that the cocaine and weapons in the headlines don't cover half the story. I am here to cry with these people, and shine with hope at the amazing marathon for peace they run…. Thank you, Westmoreland, for making this journey with me. Your prayers, thoughts, discussions, questions, e-mails help me to stay sane on this bridge between contrasts. I send love, gratitude and prayers! (Her entire, very moving letter was a part of Rev. Rich Smith's sermon on Nov. 25.)
Samantha Brewer, from Auburn, Washington, a graduate of Wellesley College, served at N Street Village. Alanna Copenhaver, whose home is in Wellesley, Mass., is a graduate of Haverford College, and she worked at Samaritan Ministry in Arlington, VA. John Forrest Douglas, from Edgemont, Arkansas, graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. He worked at Bethesda Cares. Alexis Herman, from Evansville, WI, a graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, served at DC Rape Crisis Center. Cadie Keefe, a graduate of Fordham University, is from Schenectady, NY. She worked at Bread for the City.
Our volunteers briefly described their work and experiences.
My placement is at Bethesda Cares, an outreach agency for people who are homeless in Montgomery County. I work with the outreach social worker to meet the needs of clients who drop in seeking assistance. Since Bethesda Cares is a drop-in center and a relatively small organization, my duties change as different situations present themselves. I spend much of my time meeting one on one with clients and trying to assist them with their needs. Some of the major needs that we encounter with our clients include: attaining identification, paying for prescriptions, applying for state and federal benefits, searching and applying for jobs, and securing housing. Many of these needs may seem minute, but for some clients just getting an ID is a major victory. I have had the opportunity to participate in many meetings and trainings in Montgomery County that deal with the issues relating to homelessness.
Through my placement, my eyes have been more fully opened to many of the socio-economic injustices in our society and to those places where the current systems fail those who are the most vulnerable. Next year I plan to enter seminary to pursue ordination in the United Methodist Church.
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As the Community Educator for Children at the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC), my primary responsibility is to meet with groups of children and talk about good touches and bad touches, and how to tell the difference between the two types. Three days a week, I go to the public schools in DC and present to children from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, using a puppet show or video to help convey my message.
In addition to these presentations, I also present to adults on issues surrounding Child Sexual Assault, and I plan events relating to child safety for the Center. I also spend a few hours each week answering our anonymous hotline, talking to survivors and their friends and families. At the DCRCC, we are often surrounded by negative events—the stories I hear from children, the calls we receive on the hotline, and headlines in the news show us just how pervasive sexual assault is. However, my coworkers have taught me to see the hope in these stories instead of the pain. The DCRCC is a place of recovery, trust, and kindness, not only for our clients, but for ourselves as well. I love my job—the opportunity to spread empowerment and understanding in children is so rewarding, and incredibly fun!
My fellow volunteers this year have proved equally supportive. The goal of living simply in an intentional community has been embraced and supported by everyone, and we have changed our house into a home. With the help of the Board, we have created a great space to share, learn, and laugh.
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Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington is an organization that provides services to homeless people and others in need in the Washing area. Our Next Step program helps participants to improve their lives and to become self-sufficient. This program provides individuals a comprehensive framework for addressing many of the complex challenges posed by homelessness and poverty.
As a caseworker, I am responsible for assisting participants to set goals and to break down these goals into measurable, manageable steps. When I meet with participants, I help them work towards achieving their goals in areas of employment, housing, mental health and sobriety. Every morning, I work at Samaritan Ministry’s office in Arlington where I try to provide participants with the necessary resources and support to help them make positive changes in their lives. As many of the people I work with struggle with mental illness and/or drug and alcohol addiction, there is no one solution. Our program is tailored to suit the circumstance of each individual participant.
Samaritan Ministry’s success is not merely calculated by the number of steps that participants complete, but by our participants’ self-empowerment as they realize they can accomplish self-declared goals. What particularly resonates with me about Samaritan Ministry is how the organization stresses the importance of recognizing the dignity of each person who enters through its doors. Beginning with the offering of a cup of coffee, my co-workers and I try to create an environment where our participants feel welcome and respected. A place where they are encouraged to proactively transform their lives and are not judged based on their past experience.
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I work at Bread for the City NW as a Social Service Case Manager. Bread for the City provides medical care, social services, legal aid, clothing, and food pantry services. My basic duties involve long-term case management with up to 25 clients and working with walk-in clients at least three days a week.
My clients face a number of social issues and obstacles. I assist my clients with housing, budgeting, applying for public benefits, employment, education, basic time management, and mental health.
My clients' resilience and patience inspire me on a daily basis. Everyday at my job brings new lessons about the strength of the human spirit.
I look forward to the future of the relationships that I've developed with my clients and my co-workers. The environment at Bread for the City has been one of the most supportive of my life. I feel as though I am at the ideal location to grow and develop into a conscientious member of the community.
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I work at N Street Village, in Bethany Women's Center. N Street provides a variety of services to homeless and low income women, including transitional group housing, a night shelter, and the day center where I work.
On a typical day, I get to Bethany at 7am, start the coffee, fold the clean towels from the day before, and set up for breakfast. At 7:30, I open the doors and greet the familiar faces of our regular ladies and introduce myself to the new women. Volunteers arrive to help us serve breakfast, and afterwards we have our daily staff meeting where we keep each other up to date on the status of the ladies in our community.
Our women are required to participate in at least five "activities" each week, and I teach classes to help them fulfill this requirement – my favorites are Women in History and Current Events, and the women's commentary and insight never fails to amaze me. At noon we serve lunch, at 3:30 a snack, and at four we close.
In all the time between the tasks I listed, I am directing women to services they need, getting soaps and shampoos for them, marking off their chores, checking out towels for showers, and sitting with our women and just talking to them.
It is a difficult job, and I often find myself challenged by women with mental illness, substance abuse problems, lack of education, and health problems. Finding the right services for them can be frustrating and feel futile. However, I am given hope and energy to continue by our success stories, and the perseverance of my colleagues.
Julia Clark, from Salem, VA,
Samaritan Ministry; Joni Podschun, from Winfield,
SOME; Johanna Heilman, from St. Paul, MN,
House; Rachel Cloud, from Lawrence, Kansas, at D.C.
Center; and Claire Kelleher-Smith, from Taylor, AZ,
for the City. The following are short descriptions, in their
words, of what the volunteers di in their agencies.
Clark (College of William and Mary graduate) writes about her
experiences at Samaritan Ministry:
As a caseworker at Samaritan Ministry, I have had the privilege of combining my interests in social justice with my Christian faith. Samaritan
Ministry reaches out to needy men and women in Washington , DC and Northern Virginia , providing resources and support to help them make positive changes in their lives.
Our organization is based on the “Next Step Program,” where caseworkers such as myself help participants set goals for themselves and lay out practical “next steps” to achieve those goals. I work with a mostly homeless population, many of whom struggle with mental illness and/or drug and alcohol addiction. Daily I assist my clients in taking positive strides in areas of employment, housing, mental health, and substance abuse recovery. At my office in Arlington, VA, my coworkers and I try to create an environment where our clients feel welcome and respected, a place where they are encouraged to proactively transform their lives, but not be judged based on their pasts.
Not only do my clients benefit from our interactions, but I too have gained valuable experience and insight as a result of my work with Samaritan Ministry and the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps.
Julia Clark at Samaritan Ministry
So Others Might Eat (SOME)
Podschun (Hendrix College graduate) serves at SOME. She says
her work there:
SOME is a most impressive organization. The breadth and depth of services offered amaze me. The number of lives touched—volunteers and clients—is astounding, and the support of many congregations and individuals is heartening.
Essentially, I have two jobs. I work as an intern with the Advocacy and Social Justice Department (ASJ) and as a Teacher’s Assistant for SOME Place for Kids (SPFK). The advocacy and social justice department works to educate the community and policy makers on homelessness issues through: social justice reflections for SOME volunteers, donors, and other interested groups; testimony for local government; research on local and national homelessness; and cooperation with coalitions to influence the District of Columbia budget, improve health care for DC residents, and develop affordable housing. I lead a social justice reflection one day a week, usually for students from Good Council High School. My other tasks include research for the Fair Budget Coalition, contributing to coalitions of DC service providers and advocates, and assisting other members of the ASJ department in their research.
At SPFK I have had the opportunity to work with 20 elementary students whose families are residents at Independence Place, SOME’s permanent housing program for families. I help with homework, plan supplemental activities to improve math and reading scores, and supervisechildren in fun activities. It is wonderful to engage in direct service even as I am working to change the situation of families and homeless individuals at the systemic level. I recently testified at a Committee on Human Services hearing on the need for more emergency shelter for families, made even more meaningful given my daily interaction with children, who are so strongly affected by unstable living situations.
The supportive community enveloping my WVC experience is instrumental in my success at SOME. It is wonderful to have people to talk to about the daily stresses and joys of work, and to know we have the solidarity of the congregation and WVC board—to both tackle any concern and to help celebrate our accomplishments.
Joni Podschun at SOME Place for Kids (SPFK)
Jeremiah House (SOME)
Heilmann, (a graduate of Beloit College) is now serving at the Jeremiah
House. She tells us:
Born and raised in Minnesota and as an undergraduate at Beloit College in Wisconsin, I saw the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps as a great opportunity to live in a different part of the country. What spoke to me about the program was the emphasis on intentional community, simple living and the social service agencies available to work for through the volunteer corps. This community—the members of Westmoreland UCC and housemates—has meant more to me than I ever could have imagined.
For the last three months I worked at Pregnancy Aid Center (PAC). However, after struggling with how to approach a miscommunication in my role at PAC, I decided the best outcome to get what I wanted out of this experience was to change agencies. I recently started to work as an activities coordinator at the Jeremiah House, a single-room-occupancy (SRO) residence through SOME (So Others Might Eat). Jeremiah House is one of the four SROs run by SOME and provides housing for 52 formerly homeless men and women. Single room occupancies are a relatively new approach in the effort to end homelessness, as the structure provides a balance between independent living and support. Residents must follow strict house rules, stay clean and sober, and pay their rent on time.
The scope of my interests falls under the realm of public health. One of the components I look forward to in my work at Jeremiah House is the opportunity to incorporate health education on topics that address the chronic health needs within this community, such as managing diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, arthritis and HIV/AIDS. In addition to planning activities, trips to events and educational sessions on housing, health, and relationships, I look forward to interacting and developing relationships with the residents of Jeremiah House.
D.C. Rape Crisis Center
Cloud (graduate of University of Kansas) tells us about her work:
At the DC Rape Crisis Center I am the community educator for children. What this means is that I go to places where kids hang out, mostly elementary schools, and, using puppets, give presentations on good touches and bad touches. We discuss the difference between good touches and bad touches, and talk about kids' rights to tell, be safe, feel comfortable, and say no when someone tries to use inappropriate touches.
In addition I give presentations to parents, educators and caretakers about child sexual abuse. My other primary task involves planning events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, with parents, children and educators as the target audience.
I love my job. It is wonderful to empower others with information and tools. I believe in what I am doing. My coworkers and I have created a great support network. It is a great joy to work at DCRCC and to be in the WVC. My housemates and friends have taught me so much already and shared amazing insight. It is also unique and wonderful to have connections with the church and the board. The various life experiences and perspectives I am learning about and hearing this year are invaluable.
Rachel Cloud at DC Rape Crisis Center
BREAD FOR THE CITY
Kelleher-Smith (graduate of the University of Arizona) writes about her
experience with clients at Bread for the City:
I am working as a social services case manager at Bread for the City. Bread for the City provides food, clothing, legal assistance, medical care and social services to low-income D.C. residents. I have a caseload of clients that I work with regularly over a long period of time, and I also provide walk-in assistance to people who come in just once, or infrequently. My clients deal with hunger, homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and various other difficult issues.
I enjoy my position as case manager because I am able to work with people on a very intimate level, which is both challenging and satisfying. One of the most striking things that I noticed living and working in D.C. is the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor. Every day I walk a mile to the metro through very affluent neighborhoods, and emerge from the metro into neighborhoods where many people sleep on the sidewalks and the streets are lined with trash. That aspect of my job has been very frustrating because it seems like the poverty that my clients
experience is so unnecessary.
One of my favorite things about the Westmoreland Volunteer Corps is coming home every night to a supportive and energizing community. I love hearing the perspectives of the other volunteers, sharing insights, stories, and most importantly, a lot of laughs.
Claire Kelleher-Smith at Bread for the City
Page last updated 05 September 2012.