It's Time To Celebrate Our Most Valuable Resource!

Posted on April 13, 2011

Did you know that 62.8 million Americans performed volunteer service in 2010? That means that about one in every five Americans volunteers! Just about every household contains at least one person who volunteers. Volunteering is an activity that cuts across gender, age, racial, and ethnic lines. It is open to all individuals regardless of their educational degree, income level, or marital status. People representing all political and religious convictions can and do volunteer. Volunteering is one of the most optimistic, altruistic, and empowering activities we can engage in.

Volunteering happens inside and outside, day in and day out, weekdays and weekends, throughout the year. But there is one week every April when we stop for a moment to recognize, honor, and celebrate the service of volunteers, and that is National Volunteer Week (April 10 – 16). National Volunteer Week is an annual event organized by the Points of Light Institute and Hands-On Network to promote the contributions of America’s most amazing and inexhaustible resource – volunteers.

What in the world would we do without volunteers?

Here at Virginia Supportive Housing, we believe that homelessness is a problem that affects everybody in the community, and community volunteers can and should be a part of the solution! Through their activities, VSH volunteers support our very low-income, formerly homeless clients in their efforts to stabilize and reinforce their connections to a caring community.  What could be more compelling and meaningful than that?

In 2010, VSH volunteers completed 6846 hours of service. This gift of time was collectively equivalent to $142,739 in support. Within the past year, they painted VSH properties, cleaned units, raked yards, planted flowers, constructed shelving, put up drywall, helped clients move belongings & furniture, served food, played Bingo, hung decorations, made holiday cards, taught computer skills, wrote newsletters, composed blogs, interviewed clients, conducted research, donated canned goods, and led collection drives for household items like pots & pans, bedding, and towels.

VSH is very proud to join the nation in honoring our volunteers with a National Volunteer Week recognition event on Wednesday May 3 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. In addition to speakers and refreshments, VSH will also select one individual to receive the Bob Sledd Volunteer of the Year Award for outstanding service in support of VSH’s proven permanent solutions to homelessness. We hope you’ll be a part of the celebration. To RSVP, please send an e-mail to [email protected] or call 804-836-1061.

If you didn’t get a chance to volunteer with VSH in 2010, don’t worry. VSH offers opportunities every single month for volunteers to roll up their sleeves, have fun, and make a big difference! Take a look at the upcoming schedule of projects below and let us know if you can help by sending an e-mail to [email protected]. We can’t do it without YOU!

This project is suitable for middle & high school youth volunteers. 25 – 30 volunteers are needed to rake and clear debris, cut grass, trim bushes, clean out beds, mulch, and plant flowers at a VSH property that serves adults with chronic illness. At least five volunteers must be adults who can help with supervision of the activity.

25 – 30 volunteers will paint a vacant three-bedroom apartment in the Highland Park area so that a homeless family can get off the streets!

15 – 20 volunteers are needed every day to paint occupied units, administrative offices, and community spaces at a downtown property that serves 47 very low-income formerly homeless single adults.
5 – 8 volunteers are needed to paint a large office at the VSH headquarters so that APTS staff can better serve VSH clients.
20 – 25 volunteers are needed to rake and clear debris, cut grass, trim bushes, clean out beds, mulch, and plant flowers at a VSH property in the Fulton Hill area that serves adults with traumatic brain injuries.

What else can you do RIGHT NOW to give the gift of your time in support of our proven, permanent solutions to homelessness?
• Check out photos of volunteers in action on our Facebook page
• RSVP for a 1,000 Homes for 1,000 Virginians information session on April 15 at 5:30 p.m.
• Attend the next volunteer orientation on May 6 at 5:30 p.m.
• Sign up for our volunteer e-newsletter
• Submit a Volunteer Interest Form
• Request an application
• Resolve to get involved!

The Renovation of Monroe Park

Posted on September 21, 2010

Are we really doing a disservice to people who are experiencing homelessness by renovating the park or are we making it a nice place for everyone to visit and use?

If you’ve walked through Monroe Park lately, I think you would agree with me that it is in sad shape and in bad need of a facelift.  After having walked through or by the park numerous times in the last few years, I’m ready for this makeover.  I now have a granddaughter who started her freshman year at VCU and I’ve told her to stay away from the park, especially at night.  Deteriorating and poorly lit places breed crime.

It seems to me the issue isn’t about whether the renovations should happen but whether the renovations will discourage people who are homeless from using the park and in some cases sleeping in the park.  Once the park is renovated, it should be a great place for anyone, regardless of their housing situation.  And, call me crazy, but I don’t think a park bench is a safe place for anyone to sleep.  People who are experiencing homelessness should be inside if at all possible – in housing, preferably permanent housing – but if this is not available, in an emergency shelter.  We have 1000 emergency and transitional beds in this community and we have The Healing Place for folks with substance abuse issues.

Currently there is also a lot of concern over the weekend happenings in the park, where many well-meaning people from various congregations and groups come to provide food, clothes and bedding to those in need.  This is not an organized effort (i.e., no one is in charge) and I have heard complaints that oftentimes trash and stuff that is not picked up by folks is simply left for the City to pick up.

So, is this the best way to feed people on the weekends?  For those of you who don’t know, Freedom House serves a meal on Saturdays at 3:30 and a brunch on Sundays until 2pm.  They will also give bag lunches on Sundays to folks who need them.  The meals are served at the Conrad Center, which is at 17th and O Street.  Meals are also served there during the week in the morning and evenings.  Lunches are served every day by the downtown churches.  So why do people feel compelled to bring food and other things to the folks who are experiencing homelessness who gather in Monroe Park? 

Are we as a community doing this because the folks who gather there need food, clothes or bedding? Or are we doing it because we need to feel like we are doing something to help?

I don’t mean to disparage anyone who has helped people experiencing homelessness in Monroe Park, but I know that Freedom House could use more volunteers to help serve meals. To find out more about opportunities with Freedom House, please contact Christy Ellis, Community Resource Director at 233-4064, est. 209.  VSH also has plenty of opportunities available and would welcome individual and group volunteers who have a passion for helping people in need.

We’ve worked very hard in this community to develop a system of helping people in crisis and I think it works fairly well most of the time.  It is accessible and treats people with respect and dignity.  I don’t think we need to continue to use the park as a place to sleep or as a feeding program on the weekends.  I think it should be a beautiful place where my granddaughter and anyone, including people who are experiencing homelessness, can enjoy all of the time.

Stories Of Struggle, Endings Of Hope

Posted on August 31, 2010

I have asked Alison Jones-Nassar, VSH’s volunteer program coordinator, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

Reading an article in this weekend’s Daily Press reminded me of the response I always get whenever I tell someone I work with Virginia Supportive Housing. The circumstances may differ and the details might change slightly, but it’s always a variation on the same theme.

The article, entitled “Mom, Family Escape Homelessness,” describes the efforts of a young Newport News woman, Suzanne Richardson, to overcome a mountain of obstacles in order to avoid a housing crisis and maintain a safe home for her mother, brother, and two young children, Anais (5) and Jamere (1).

Some of the obstacles Suzanne has encountered are the results of mistakes made, starting with her own decision to drop out of high school and her first pregnancy as a teenager. Others are through no fault of her own. Her mother is on disability. The home they were renting went into foreclosure.

Despite some bad judgments, Suzanne has made every attempt to rectify her mistakes for the sake of her family by following the rules. She achieved her GED, went back to college to become a certified massage therapist, and graduated with honors. She found a job and received high recommendations from her supervisor and co-workers.

But in the face of foreclosure, her minimum-wage job could not cover the cost of the security deposit and first month’s rent for a new place. She didn’t have enough money to pay the electricity bills or put food on the table. And then her car broke down.

Combined, the obstacles Suzanne has faced would be enough to overwhelm anyone – and yet she keeps persevering. “I just thought, ‘I’ve got to keep moving. I’ve got to try my best.” She has jumped through all the required hoops, working hard and never asking for favors or special treatment. But somehow, it’s never quite enough.

Whenever I tell someone I work with VSH, this is the story I hear again and again. A brother, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, someone from the congregation. A lost job, an abusive parent, a divorce, a car breakdown, a medical emergency, an emotional crisis. There are so many stories out there, so many people who are struggling so hard. Some of them, like Suzanne, are barely managing to hold on by the skin of their teeth. Many others are not.

I often wonder how I would cope in a situation like that. If I was in Suzanne’s place, would I have the resilience to keep going? To keep following the rules? To smile for my kids and believe in a happy ending? My work with Virginia Supportive Housing allows me to be a part of an organization that makes a real difference in the lives of people like Suzanne. By getting the community involved in what we do, I help to increase awareness of all those stories out there and mobilize the resources required to help. The good news is that VSH makes happy endings possible. Are you ready to find out more about how you can give someone’s story a happy ending?

We Can’t Afford To Be Ignorant About Affordable Housing Issues

Posted on April 20, 2010

I have asked Alison Jones-Nassar, VSH’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, to write this week’s blog. Thanks, Alice

Affordable Housing Awareness Week was launched on Monday morning with a symposium at the Jepson Alumni Center focused on issues surrounding the topic of affordable housing. The first speaker looked around the room, filled primarily by housing awareness advocates, and asked, “Why should we learn about housing affordability?” And indeed, the events scheduled throughout this week are designed to answer that very question. Ultimately, I think the answer to that question depends on another question. Does everyone deserve a safe and stable place to live?

Affordable housing is not an abstract issue for me. It is not something that I only think about during business hours. My family lives in an affordable rental community with income qualifications in Chesterfield. Living in this community has made it possible for my children to attend quality public schools and receive an excellent education.

We have lived in the same building with many of the same neighbors for six years, and so I can feel secure knowing someone is watching out for my kids when they let themselves in after school. The grounds are well-kept and the buildings are well-maintained. And we have easy access to libraries, fitness centers, and many other services and activities that most people would consider necessary for a decent quality of life. More communities like this are desperately needed.

Just last week I drove through a neighborhood across town where clusters of grown men stood together on street corners and small children played among spilled garbage cans and strewn glass. Yards were abandoned, windows were broken, and cracked gates hung off hinges. I was astonished to see entire houses collapsing from years of structural neglect. For too many people, especially single parent families, this is what “affordable housing” really means: unsafe drug-infested neighborhoods, poor schools, and a lack of even basic services.

Does everyone deserve a safe and stable place to live? For me the answer is a resounding yes. I believe that all mothers, not just me, want safe neighborhoods and good schools and places to play for their children. Everyone, not just people in award-winning Chesterfield, wants decent transportation systems and convenient grocery stores with fresh produce and jobs that pay the rent.

So … Why should we learn about housing affordability? Because when you get right down to it, the issues that surround the subject of affordable housing are issues that lie at the very heart of the concepts of fairness and equality on which this country was supposedly founded and to which we all supposedly subscribe.

Affordable Housing Awareness Week was designed to help ordinary people not only understand more about housing affordability, but to take action. This week, fifteen area non-profits including Virginia Supportive Housing are welcoming community volunteers who would like to build, paint, rake, weed, plant, clean and make a visible difference in the community we all call home. It’s a great opportunity to volunteer and it’s also a great opportunity to learn. Because we can’t afford to be ignorant about affordable housing issues any more.



Virginia Supportive Housing Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2010 With Volunteer Experiences For People In Action!

Posted on March 30, 2010

National Volunteer Week is an annual event that celebrates ordinary people doing extraordinary things to improve communities across the nation. This year, National Volunteer Week will take place during the week of April 18 – 24, and the theme is Celebrating People in Action. This event gives organizations that mobilize volunteer resources a great opportunity to recognize and honor their contributions, and Virginia Supportive Housing is proud to join this celebration.

Virginia Supportive Housing offers many opportunities for volunteers and volunteer groups to experience service that is both meaningful and rewarding. On Saturday, March 27, Team Hope demonstrated that volunteers with a commitment to service can not only MEET but EXCEED expectations and produce excellent results!

Team leader Steve Hoehn has a knack for projects that involve construction and repair and he “loves to do this stuff all the time!” Steve regularly recruits friends from his congregation at Hope Church for volunteer construction opportunities and recent projects include rebuilding a deck for Elder Homes and constructing dressers for the CARITAS Furniture Bank. In April, several team members will participate in the Pittsburg Project, a project that provides home repairs for elderly & disabled residents in low-income areas of Pittsburg.

Last Saturday afternoon, Virginia Supportive Housing was the lucky recipient of Team Hope’s giving spirit and technical expertise as they gathered at New Clay House, one of VSH’s Richmond properties, to rebuild a collapsing gate for an upcoming property inspection. Performing under less than ideal conditions (the crisp breeze made working in the late afternoon shade of the building decidedly chilly), the team worked together, applying problem-solving skills and complementing each others’ abilities to complete the project in less than six hours. Steve said of his experience on Saturday: “Virginia Supportive Housing has a great track record [and] it’s an awesome cause. We are really happy to help!”

People in Action are what National Volunteer Week is all about, and it’s also what Virginia Supportive Housing is all about. Homelessness is a problem that affects everyone in our community, and at VSH we believe that everyone can be a part of the solution. To find out more about how YOU can be a part of our proven, permanent solutions to homelessness, contact the volunteer program coordinator at 804-836-1061 or [email protected].

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