MOUNT VERNON — Kelly Burris admits she was nervous covering her first shifts at the Winter Sanctuary homeless shelter last fall. Her church, LifePoint Church – Mount Vernon, had taken on the homeless shelter as a service project and was enlisting members to volunteer. Burris agreed to take two shifts on the women’s side, 6 a.m.- 9 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Wednesdays.
Her nervousness, however, abated as soon as she got her feet on the ground.
“When I got to know the people and the lay of the land (I stopped being nervous),” she said. “It was not something I needed to worry about. God was calling me.”
Volunteers oversee guests during their stay, take any actions necessary to ensure their safety and well-being and communicate with shelter staff and other volunteers when necessary.
Shelter Advocate/Operations Manager Joseph Springer said the shelter is looking for volunteers who will love and accept guests as they are and build friendships.
“The most important thing is to treat people with dignity. That is something our guests don’t always get elsewhere,” Springer said. “Volunteers think ‘I am going to make a difference in peoples’ lives by treating them that way.’”
Springer said volunteers are the backbone of the shelter.
“We are almost totally volunteer driven. We need 80 to 100 volunteers in order to serve guests. They provide the environment to make changes in guests’ lives,” he said.
Burris, who is married and has a daughter and a son, said homeless people may have mental health issues or stress in their lives, but relating to them is no different than with anyone else.
“They need help and sometimes a listening ear,” she said. “They need to be loved like anyone. If I can do that I feel blessed.”
The homeless shelter, located at 401 W. Vine St., operates Nov. 1- May 1. There are three shifts for each side (men’s and women’s): 6:30-10 p.m.; 10 p.m.-6 a.m.; and 6-9 a.m. Volunteers can take shifts on a weekly, every-other-week, or monthly basis, or serve as substitutes.
Training for volunteers will be tonight from 5:30-6:30 p.m., and 9:30-10:30 a.m., Oct. 13 at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, 201 N. Mulberry St., Mount Vernon. Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to attend.
For more information, phone the homeless shelter at 740-392-9277 or e-mail it at firstname.lastname@example.org.