The phone rings and an unfamiliar number pops up:
CALLER: “Hi, my name is Steve.”
At first, his voice is barely audible.
“I saw your flyer on the bulletin board. I’m calling about the visits. I’m not sure how much more I can take. I don’t talk to nobody…”
MAYBELLE CENTER: Oh, so you want to know more about our visitation program?
CALLER: “Yes. I thought maybe I could meet some people.”
MAYBELLE CENTER: “I’m so glad you called. Where do you live? Oh, ok…Umm, I don’t have any volunteers that can go to your building right now. I’m so sorry…But I’ll definitely call you as soon as we do.”
The silent creep of loneliness
Steve’s call is a common scenario. It’s often hard for people to admit they are lonely or isolated. Maybe because of unwritten social pressure. Or maybe because loneliness can creep up on you without you knowing. It sits soundlessly right next to you, reaching around you and filling your chest.
When someone like Steve finally reaches out, we don’t know if it’s been five minutes since he’s really talked to another human being. Or maybe it’s been days. But we do know that he wants to hear someone say his name – to fill the void that only genuine connection can fill.
And to tell Steve that we don’t have any volunteers right now that can visit him, is agonizing.
Waiting, when every day counts
Through our visitation program, pairs of community volunteers visit about 200 members each year. They are spread across 36 low-income apartments and single-room occupancy hotels in Downtown Portland. All the way from Old Town to Portland State University.
Regrettably, we are only reaching 7-10% of the people we could be serving. People like Steve.
And our ability to increase the number of members we serve is directly dependent on increasing our number of volunteers.
But thanks to the Collins Foundation and other donors, we have recently hired a full-time Volunteer Coordinator – Kerry Linhares. Kerry will be fully dedicated to recruiting and supporting new volunteers, and making sure our current ones have all the tools they need to be successful.
That means in the short future, our conversation with Steve – and future members like him – will go much differently. Instead of, “I’m sorry, we don’t have anyone to visit your building right now,” we’ll ask him, “Which day would be best for visits?”
A fervor for community and an easy smile
Kerry has tousled brunette hair, tortoise-frame glasses, and an easy smile – one that has already made an impression on our volunteers. But underneath her gentle demeanor is a fervor for connecting volunteers deeply with our community.
She phrases it this way, “Some people say, ‘I don’t go there [Old Town]’ or ‘it seems unsafe.’ But we want our volunteers to feel like they are part of Old Town’s community. And you need to get involved.”
And while Kerry is a Missourian at heart, she says “I’ve been surprised at how fast I’ve started seeing the same people on the block and starting to recognize them. This is really becoming a neighborhood for me.”
Old Town quickly grew on Kerry, just like it does for many of our volunteers. Some of our volunteers have crossed the “Burnside divide” – the major automobile artery cutting Old Town off from Downtown – for the first time when they volunteer with us. Soon our volunteers realize that everyone is just trying to get through the day, the best they know how. And it’s not uncommon to hear stories from volunteers about how the visitations are impacting their lives as much as the members’.
From microbiology and the entomology of disease to public health
Kerry comes to us with a background in public health and AmeriCorps service. After graduating with a biology degree from Truman State University, she took an AmeriCorps position with the Oregon Health Authority. She stayed on for another year as the Team Leader, recruiting and overseeing AmeriCorps volunteers throughout the state.
In fact, one of Kerry’s AmeriCorps volunteers was placed at Maybelle Center. A routine site visit to the Maybelle Center in 2015 was her first introduction to the organization. Kerry still remembers how much she was attracted by the mission of building community at Maybelle Center. And she remembers how the former AmeriCorps volunteer stationed at The Center spoke so highly of it. You could say it was love-at-first-sight [visit].
After a brief stint on the Disaster Preparedness Team at the Oregon Health Authority, Kerry jumped at the Volunteer Coordinator position at Maybelle Center. Kerry says she loved being the “point person for other AmeriCorps volunteers when I was the Team Leader. It’s always a great feeling to connect people with resources they need to be successful. And this job is right in my skillset.”
We couldn’t agree more. Kerry’s already making a great impression on our volunteers and staff. We can’t wait to see what she does this year!
What’s the best part of her job so far?
“Getting to go on the visitations and constantly hearing amazing stories people have to tell. I love that.”
And we’d love to share these experiences with you too. Come and see what it’s like to be a visitation volunteer. You can Kerry a call at 971-202-7461 (or email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Or if you’re already a volunteer, stop by to say “hi” and welcome her to the Maybelle Center family.