Myles Goodwin: ‘Whatever they need — I’m like a Swiss Army knife’

West Tisbury man lends a hand to give rest to the weary.

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Myles Goodwin volunteers with Houses of Grace January 1 - March 31. — Josephine Brennan

Myles Goodwin came to his interview directly from his construction job at the new Martha’s Vineyard Museum. His clothes carried the strong smell of the wood he worked with there.

We’d never met before, so as I walked to the front of The Times’ office, I was caught off-guard. There was a young man sitting there, and the man I was supposed to interview spent so much time volunteering, I had in my head a vision of someone who must be retired. Goodwin is a young man who doesn’t stop — from work to taking care of his son, to his volunteerism at Vineyard Assembly of God, an evangelical church in Vineyard Haven, as the director of the children’s ministry, and overnight stays with Houses of Grace, Goodwin is constantly at work somewhere on the Island.

“He’s part of a generation that sees how important it is to love your community,” said Melissa St. John in a phone interview. St. John is the woman whom Goodwin credits with his involvement with Houses of Grace, where he conducts some of his most impactful volunteerism. St. John, who got involved with Houses of Grace in its first year and has been a coordinator for the program for the past two years, emphasized that “whenever you need Goodwin, he’s there,” and while “he’s certainly not perfect,” he takes every opportunity to serve, something she saw as a standout trait from someone at Goodwin’s young age of 26.

Houses of Grace is a program providing shelter and sustenance to those who need it during the cold winter months on the Island, Jan. 1 to March 31, and takes up the majority of Goodwin’s volunteering time. “There aren’t a lot of people willing to sleep down there,” Goodwin said of the basements of the many churches in which Houses of Grace occurs during the frigid winter months, “St. Anthony’s is actually pretty nice,” he said, laughing.

Goodwin spends every Friday, January through March, sleeping among those seeking shelter through the Houses of Grace program, developing relationships with those in need and making a conscious effort to be in their lives. “Very few people need a check or cash,” Goodwin continued. “What they need is people.”

The work isn’t easy, no matter how easy Goodwin makes it sound — he and his fellow volunteers are often interacting with people whose issues go far beyond hunger or shelter, and it can be difficult to break the stigma that is often associated with needing the kind of help that Houses of Grace provides.

Goodwin often takes on the overnight shift, one that St. John described as the most challenging, with the least volunteers. “It’s a 12-hour shift,” said St. John, “and Myles stepped right in … watching young men step in and watching their interactions with guests sets such a good example,” she continued. “He has to sleep with at least one eye open, and it takes a firm but true person to see it through.” Goodwin makes an effort to devote the most time and energy possible to develop lasting relationships and friendships that can extend beyond the four walls of the basement he may be sleeping in on a Friday night, to the outside world. Each night during Houses of Grace’s operation Goodwin gets in and mingles with the other volunteers and those who are staying overnight. He reads all night, and wakes up at 6 am to prepare breakfast before everyone leaves by 7 am.

“The most rewarding part of this isn’t even when it’s happening,” said Goodwin, reflecting on his past two years with Houses of Grace. “It comes after … in the summer, when you see people out on the street that you would usually walk around, and are able to say hi. My friends are usually like, ‘You know that person?’ — and I do.”

“On the Island, it’s much more personal,” said Goodwin. “You get to see people here, and you get to know them.” Goodwin has been on the Island for eight years now, and remarked on the tight-knit community he has gotten to know, and the impact that it has had on his volunteerism — it means more. Goodwin does what he can for the community that he loves. “Whatever they need — I’m like a Swiss Army knife,” he said.

Raised in the Lutheran Church, Goodwin described his teen years as a time when he ran away from God, “chasing after the world,” and cared only for himself. When he came back, is when he began to realize the importance of things like Houses of Grace and the “real sacrifice” made by people to help others in need. His volunteerism is not for convenience. “These are people,” he emphasized — a real factor for volunteerism, rather than a selfish need to feel better about himself by helping others. “Most people are surprised at his ability to be consistent at such a young age,” said St. John, but his wisdom extends beyond his years, in her eyes.

“It’s getting better every year,” he said of the Houses of Grace program, which has been operating for the past three years. Looking to the future, Goodwin said, he would love to see the program extend earlier into the year, when it’s still just as cold. The holidays have gotten in the way of the program extending up until now, but he is optimistic that they can try to improve each and every year.

When he’s not volunteering, working at Good Neighbor Fence, or at Vineyard Assembly of God, Goodwin devotes himself to studying and reading — from classical literature to Latin: “I’ll study whatever I can get my hands on,” he said. He also pursues ministry opportunities, talking in-depth about faith. A person who may have used to just “throw some change” at someone going through a hard time, he devotes himself and his life today to making sure that he is truly involved.

“There are not a lot of people who can do this work,” said St. John, but Goodwin is “multifaceted and sincere,” and certainly loved by those he helps each and every day.