Volunteers who helped make Hospitality Homes’ inaugural season a success gathered at St. Andrew’s parish hall in Edgartown on April 4 to talk about their experiences. Twenty-five or so volunteers came, and most admitted that helping the homeless stay warm and safe over the winter months meant more to them than they expected.
Approximately 120 volunteers went through the orientation process, and they included at least two policemen and an EMT. Volunteers did more than be present at evening and overnight shifts; they also provided food, blankets, and goody bags containing toiletries and new socks, something that’s a must for those spending so much time out in the elements.
Peter Vincent was one of four coordinators for Hospitality Homes, and he said his volunteer experience was “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” He also told the group that he was saddened that two of his former neighbors were among the homeless who kept warm at the sheltering churches — St. Andrew’s and the Federated Church, both in Edgartown.
Another volunteer coordinator, Les Holcomb, wants to take the program further, and offer trainings on hypothermia, foot screening, and mediation. He’s interested in a summer student nutrition program, and in accessibility to detox beds on the Island.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel was there as a volunteer, and he reminded everyone to let their selectmen know they would like access to more services on the Island.
“We’ve been advocating for more social services for the past five or six years,” Israel said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on this … Let your selectmen know that you support these programs. Let them know this is the right thing to do.”
The volunteers said they were moved by the gratitude they felt from the homeless guests who were part of the program. One guest told a volunteer, “I couldn’t have made it without you this year.”
The Pastor of St. Andrew’s, the Rev. Chip Seadale, who spearheaded efforts to shelter the Island’s homeless over the winter, said Hospitality Homes was “a transformative experience for me as a minister,” though there were times, he said, that he was afraid the efforts weren’t enough.
“That’s when Les Holcomb said, ‘Just give it time,’” Seadale told the group of volunteers. “In a sense, all we can do is what we’re doing now. This is a group of people willing to give for no reason other than we’re called to give.”
One of the volunteers from the United Methodist Church said his experience left him hopeful.
“To see the Island churches and others coming together and working together, that’s very hopeful, to see that something that was a dream last fall actually happened,” he said. “And now more people know the face of the homeless.”
The group’s statistics indicated that there were approximately two dozen homeless guests who took advantage of the overnight shelters. They counted four senior citizens, and said that about one-third of the homeless population represented were women.
Volunteer Melissa St. John was a police officer for 11 years before moving to the Island in 2014, where she works in the Daybreak program at Community Services. She said she often encountered the homeless in San Antonio and Houston, where she lived. And her late sister, Rhonda, was homeless at one time, an experience embedded in St. John’s memory.
“Honestly, when I was a cop I hated finding people who froze to death out in the bushes,” St. John said in a telephone interview after the gathering. “Initially, one of my motivating factors to help the homeless was from dealing with my sister. She slept on the streets in Dallas for three or four weeks.”
St. John said everyone’s gifts came to the forefront as they volunteered with Hospitality Homes.
“I think this makes the community stronger,” she said. “If I hadn’t volunteered, I never would have met all these great people.”
She said she thinks the program will only get better in each succeeding year.
“If anyone feels any trepidation about volunteering during a night shift, I’d be happy to do it with them,” St. John offered.
As everyone prepared to leave last week’s gathering, the Rev. Seadale reminded them, “Please know every one of you is critical in the success of this program. [In the future] we’re going to need space besides the Federated Church and St. Andrew’s. We need a site in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven; we need people to do this work. It’s not a matter of when it opens next year, but whether it opens.”
For more information about Hospitality Homes, contact the Rev. Seadale at St. Andrew’s Church, 508-627-5330.
Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship. If you have news for “Have Faith,” email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.