Volunteers Make Homelessness History

Posted on April 13, 2016

Volunteers Make Homelessness History

by Alison Jones-Nassar, Volunteer Resources Manager

This week as Virginia Supportive Housing celebrates National Volunteer Week, I reflect with gratitude on the impact volunteers make on our organization and in the lives of those we serve.

The collective contributions of volunteers are inspiring. In the last five years, 5,513 volunteers supported our mission to end homelessness with gifts of time, skills and compassion. Volunteers provided nearly 47,800 hours of service, which translates to an extraordinary $987,000 in value.

These numbers only capture part of the picture. VSH’s volunteer workforce supports all aspects of our mission and extends our ability to deliver critical services to vulnerable individuals. Volunteers help improve the quality of life for the residents, whether by enhancing and maintain the properties in which they live, or by providing direct services and activities to our residents.

Property Champions

VSH’s portfolio of apartments for formerly homeless individuals includes 535 units in 16 properties that we own and operate. Volunteers greatly expand the capacity of our maintenance team, thanks to thousands of hours that they dedicate to VSH.

As a result, VSH properties look more attractive, clean and inviting – like “home” should be. Volunteers construct fences, repair porches, spread mulch, paint apartments, repair appliances, plant flowers, clean gutters, move furniture, scrub sinks, cut grass, build raised garden boxes, rake leaves, assemble furniture and paint parking lot lines, among many other tasks. The work is not glamorous, but our volunteers unfailingly arrive with team spirit and can-do attitudes to make it seem like fun.

Direct Service Providers

Through VSH’s orientation and training, volunteers gain an understanding of the variety of physical and mental conditions that affect many of our residents as a result of having living unsheltered for years. Volunteers also learn about residents extremely limited incomes (less than $10,000/year) that can affect food security and social inclusion. Many of our residents are also disconnected from family, thus reducing their exposure to holiday celebrations and traditions.

Volunteers have answered the call to help improve the quality of life for our residents in a big way. Direct services that volunteers provide include hosting birthday parties, cutting hair, preparing dinners, decorating for holiday celebrations, teaching computer skills, conducting art classes, leading Bingo, teaching financial literacy, providing assistance with job-hunting, promoting wellness, performing song and dance routines, conducting Bible studies, organizing Wii fitness sessions, teaching bike safety and delivering food baskets.

Special event volunteers support myriad fundraising efforts while administrative support volunteers and interns support our administrative staff.

Without the contributions of volunteers across all departments and programs, we would not be able to accomplish the important work that we do each day to end homelessness. Volunteers are truly the KEY to success!

National Volunteer Week provides not only a great opportunity reflect, but to plan as well. This year VSH will become certified as a Service Enterprise, which means that our capacity to engage volunteers strategically, to onboard them effectively and to steward them as life-long supporters will be better than ever. We are committed to strengthening our current practices while striving for a new level of excellence in volunteer engagement.

On behalf of Virginia Supportive Housing’s staff, Board of Directors and residents, I extend our sincere appreciation and gratitude to all volunteers. Your dedication and service are priceless. Here’s to volunteers and the bright futures they continue to build!




VSH Volunteers Make A Difference!

Posted on February 21, 2012

This week’s blog was written by VSH volunteer Amanda Roose of Foursquare Family Life Center.

“It has been almost one year since I have been volunteering with VSH, and my life has been messed up in the best of ways because of it. One of the most rewarding things I have gotten to be a part of has been our weekly game nights with the tenants at South Richmond. It’s such a simple thing, bringing games and snacks and sharing stories, but it has opened up friendships that I cannot fathom living without. These aren’t just random people I share a coke with anymore, they are real people with real stories and real hearts, and they matter to me. In my normal routine I would have never passed by my new friends, but stepping out  of my routine and building relationships with them has probably changed my life more than theirs. Last August I was a part of Richmond Registry Week on a survey team. Seeing Richmond’s invisible people firsthand hurt me on many levels, but what gave me hope was that I was doing something to solve this problem. The homeless are more than statistics to me now. They have faces, names, and voices that are aching to be heard.

“Teams from my church have painted the inside and outside of a family’s new home. We have done construction and gardening. We have had pizza and bingo nights. We have shared life and shared hope. We have had Thanksgiving dinner with them and spent Christmas day with them. We have donated house supplies for new tenants moving in. We have been a part of solving homelessness alongside Virginia Supportive Housing. It may not have always been convenient, but it has always been rewarding and worth it. Life is too short to live for myself, so I have resolved to be second, and put others first. I am so grateful for the team at Virginia Supportive Housing who have dedicated their lives to seeing others get a fresh new start, and that they let us be a part of the restoration.”

If you would like to find out more about how to give the gift of your time to VSH, visit our web page or take a look at volunteers in action. Then send an e-mail to [email protected] to attend the next orientation on March 13!

Make Service A Priority In 2012!

Posted on January 3, 2012

This blog was written by VSH’s volunteer resources manager, Alison Jones-Nassar.

According to some recent surveys, nearly one out of every two Americans starts the New Year by making at least one resolution. Some common new year’s resolutions include losing weight, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, getting out of debt, saving more money, and going on a trip. It seems that many of us want to feel better about ourselves somehow, and exercising more control over our bodies, finances, and leisure time are three common starting points for trying to achieve that goal.

My new year started with a memorial service.

My deceased brother’s wife’s sister-in-law died of complications from lung & breast cancer at the end of December after battling her illness for more than two years, and so we gathered on January 2nd to celebrate her memory.

The service was very inspiring, as one friend after another stood before the assembly to give testimony concerning Debbe’s great enthusiasm for service to the community. “When our lives are over, how do we really want to be remembered by others?” asked the pastor. “Isn’t the impact that we have on those around us the only thing that truly matters?”  I found myself resolving, right then and there, to ask myself that question every day and make sure that my actions reflected my determination to make service a priority.

There is no shortage out there of people in need of our service, and we need not restrict our idea of service to big grand circumstances. Whether we are among family members or work colleagues, serving our congregations or our less fortunate neighbors, life presents us every day with endless opportunities for kind words, compassionate gestures, consoling embraces, and supportive acts both great and small. But especially the small ones.

Tom Allen, in last Saturday’s Faith & Values column, wrote about a woman “whose life had come to a very precarious place,” someone who was homeless, sick, penniless, and in search of a friend who could help her “begin the difficult process of trying to turn her life around.”  Someone, in other words, just like the people we serve at Virginia Supportive Housing.

The bad news is that this particular story didn’t end well, and the individual died of an apparent self-inflicted drug overdose. When hope and help come too late, that is often the result.

The good news is that VSH offers weekly, monthly, and episodic opportunities for volunteers to bring hope and help to the lives of our formerly homeless clients, so that their stories can have better endings. All you have to do is resolve to make service a priority and then put that resolution into practice one act of service at a time.

I assure you, it’s not as hard or scary as it might sound, and the reward far outweighs the commitment.

During the holidays I experienced a powerful affirmation of why service to our clients matters. A group of tenants and volunteers was hanging decorations at one of our properties, and Christmas music was playing on the little boombox. I noticed that the familiar carols, so comforting & festive for so many of us, seemed to be having a decidedly melancholy effect on one usually cheerful & talkative tenant.

As time went on, she grew quieter and her expression grew sadder. I reached over to lightly touch her shoulder and ask if she was okay, and she abruptly stood up and wrapped her arms around me in a fierce hug. We stood like that for a minute, both of us just breathing, before she whispered, “My daughter just hugged me through you, and I can’t thank you enough.” It turns out that her daughter had passed away three years ago at Christmas time under difficult circumstances, and the music was a painful reminder to her of that unbearable loss. As a mother of three daughters, I felt privileged to be able to serve her with such a simple yet profound gesture. And in a similar situation, I could not imagine a more valuable gift.

At the end of his column, Tom Allen concludes that “one of the reasons we’re here is to help each other. We’ve got to keep getting better at it.” I agree, and I’m sure Debbe would too. We can have an impact on the lives of others in 2012. We can be the face of compassion for those who need it most. And our own lives can be blessed in the process. All it takes is a resolution.

For One Volunteer, Homelessness Hits Close To Home!

Posted on October 5, 2011

Last Friday, Capital One hosted a picnic for VSH clients and staff, and thirty-seven Cap One associates supported this great event. One volunteer, Tracy, shared this story about her personal experience with homelessness:

“My father had been searching for his father, my grandfather Jack, for over 40 years.  A few years ago, we found out that he was homeless and had been living on the streets of San Diego for 30+ years.  

“We found out that, in 1949, he received a dishonorable discharge from the military. We also found out that he had been involved in some criminal activity after his discharge. All of this alienated him from his family and eventually led to his homelessness. After searching for so many years, my father didn’t care so much about any of that. He just really wanted to get him off the streets.  Even though we didn’t know him very well, we still had our own special bond with him and really wanted to help him! 

“Despite everything we were able to find out about Jack’s situation, it proved extremely difficult to locate him. We were able to establish that he was consistently using a certain shelter in downtown San Diego, and we called several times and spoke to a priest who said he would give him our information.  We were also able to contact his case manager and she has been wonderful trying to piece things together for us. 

“My grandfather knew that we were looking for him, but no matter what we did we couldn’t get through to him. At one point, my dad even drove out to California to see if he could make contact, but he didn’t succeed. The case manager told us that my grandfather was sick and needed medication but wasn’t willing to take the help that was being offered to him. He was becoming sicker and sicker but continually refused to be hospitalized.

“On the evening of March 16, I was at home doing some additional searches and I found out that Jack had passed away on 2/19/2011. He passed away in the hospital after being found near death on the street by a Good Samaritan. Unfortunately he was alone!   

“As a family we were very disappointed that we were not able to reconnect with my grandfather before he passed, and very sad that he died without family. As I have gone through this whole search process, I have come to realize that there are an amazing number of people on the streets who are in a similar situation. My prayer is that homeless people will get the assistance they need before it’s too late. At the picnic, I was reminded again that what Virginia Supportive Housing does is so important. No one deserves to spend their last days like my grandfather, sick, alone, and homeless.”

Unfortunately, Tracy is right. There are more than 100,000 chronically homeless individuals sleeping on the streets of America on any given night. Their ages, backgrounds, and experiences may differ, but one thing unites them all. Their medical vulnerability and chronic homelessness makes them three to four times more likely to die prematurely in circumstances we wouldn’t wish upon anyone. 

Like Tracy, we at Virginia Supportive Housing strongly believe that no one deserves to live on the streets, struggling with illness and cut off from loved ones. That’s why we work hard every single day to provide permanent housing and support services for these individuals, so that their health needs can be addressed, their lives can be repaired, and their hope can be restored.

For Tracy’s grandfather, Jack, it’s too late. But for so many others, we CAN make a difference.

To help VSH win the Amazing Raise Challenge, click here!

Celebrate The Season Of Service With VSH!

Posted on September 13, 2011

The HandsOn Network and the Points of Light Institute commonly refer to this time of year as the Season of Service. It begins with 9/11 Service Day, a day on which communities have the opportunity to come together to repair the damage caused by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and ends with the holiday season, a time when we are privileged to share the blessings of family, friends, food, and material bounty with our less fortunate neighbors.

VSH kicked off this season with a fantastic 9/11 Service Day project that inspired thirty-four amazing community volunteers to roll up their sleeves on a beautiful Sunday morning for a day of painting at a VSH property that provides permanent housing and support services for 60 formerly homeless individuals, eleven of whom are military veterans.
In three short hours, these terrific volunteers transformed two large public spaces for the building’s tenants, some of whom have called South Richmond home for more than a decade.

But the gift of their time meant so much more than a couple of coats of fresh paint! For these volunteers, it was also about demonstrating the power of service to impact lives and transform entire communities. Service with VSH means many things, but the ultimate goal is always to reconnect our formerly homeless clients to a caring community and remind them that they are not alone in their struggles to recover and restabilize.

At VSH, the Season of Service has gotten off to a wonderful start….but it’s only just the beginning! Weekly opportunities are available throughout the coming four months and beyond for individual and group volunteers who want to make a difference in the community and support our permanent solutions to homelessness. VSH volunteers are always needed to paint, clean, and landscape properties, serve meals, engage in social activities with clients, offer tutoring sessions, lead donation drives, provide administrative support, and much more.

It only takes a few hours to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others, and you can start right now. Take a look at some of our excellent volunteers in action and then check your availability for the upcoming opportunities below: 

Make the gift of your time count this season by supporting Virginia Supportive Housing’s proven permanent solutions to homelessness! To support VSH in Richmond, call 804-836-1061 or send an e-mail to [email protected]. For more information on VSH volunteer opportunities in South Hampton Roads, call 757-394-3077 x 307 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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