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Taking a Little Time to Make a Big Difference

A hands on approach to fighting homelessness

March 19, 2014

FCA US employees and members of the Women’s Forum sort and hang clothing at the Salvation Army Warren Community Center and Shelter.

FCA US employees and Women’s Forum members sort and hang clothing at the Salvation Army Warren Community Center and Shelter.

In the United States, homelessness is an emotional and economic issue, which affects nearly every community across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single night in January 2013 there were 610,042 people experiencing homelessness in the United States.

Thankfully, many Americans contribute to helping those in need. These benevolent acts, whether it is purchasing toys for children during the holidays, participating in food drives, or donating clothing that accumulate during spring cleaning, are certainly vital in aiding the homeless and hungry.  

However, there is another type of donation that may be just as critical – time.

In fact, 25.4% or about 62.6 million Americans volunteered their time through or for an organization at least once in 2013, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study.

In keeping with this trend, fifteen volunteers from the Women’s Forum, an Employee Resource Group at FCA US LLC, banded together one chilly day in March to donate their time and manpower – or more appropriately, woman power – to the Salvation Army Community Center and Shelter in Warren, Mich.

FCA US employees and Women’s Forum members prepare to serve lunch to the residents at the Salvation Army Warren Community Center and Shelter.

FCA US employees and Women’s Forum members prepare to serve lunch to the residents at the Salvation Army Warren Community Center and Shelter.

Volunteers spent the day stocking the shelter’s food pantry and clothing closet, preparing and serving meals to shelter residents and cleaning rooms throughout the facility. On the surface, it seems like the usual volunteer work, but  it means so much more.

According to Kevin Van Zee, Major Corps Officer of the Warren Salvation Army Community Center and Shelter, the shelter does have paid staff members. However, there may be only one or two Salvation Army employees working a single shift at a time.

“With a larger group of volunteers like FCA US, our staff and regular volunteers are able to get to the next items on their to-do lists, which usually doesn’t get done, simply because we don’t have the time or manpower,” Van Zee, said. “Today, the FCA US employees cleaned and sanitized all of the toys in the children’s nursery, most days our staff is lucky if we even have time to put the toys away.”

The shelter houses 86 beds; 42 for women and children, 38 for men and 6 for single fathers with children; which are typically full year-round.

“It doesn’t matter what season it is, we are almost always filled to capacity,” Van Zee said. “If we have a free bed today, it will be filled before I go home tonight.”

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the shelter relies heavily on volunteers to get through its daily operations.

Yet for Van Zee, who has been with the Salvation Army for 33 years, seeing residents break free from the cycle of homelessness is the most rewarding part of his job. Residents are given worksheets to complete daily, which help them identify ways to work towards their goals, whether it is finding a stable job or securing housing.

“We were all surprised at the level of commitment from the volunteers that come on a regular basis. Several people that are living at this location came up to us and told us what a difference we made and were so gracious,” Dickow said. “It was impactful to know that a few hours out of your day could truly make a difference and help others.”

He recalled the success story of a resident who had recently left the shelter and had been homeless for roughly ten years.

“We (the staff) worked with his case workers to find him a home and help to solve some of the root causes of his homelessness,” Van Zee said.

FCA US employees and volunteers preparing to serve lunch to residents at the Salvation Army Warren Community Center and Shelter.

FCA US employees and volunteers preparing to serve lunch to residents at the Salvation Army Warren Community Center and Shelter.

The time volunteers give at the Warren Salvation Army can certainly make a difference in the lives of the shelter residents and staff, but it may also help shed light on the realities of the shelter in less visible ways. Van Zee points out that many volunteers come into the shelter with a preconceived notion of what shelter residents are like.

“The typical shelter client is someone you’d least expect. You might be surprised to hear that there are people here who have Masters Degrees and people who have owned their own businesses,” Van Zee said. “In most cases, many people who have lost their job and go two or three months without income have no support system to prevent them from becoming homeless.”

Van Zee, hopes that volunteers take this understanding and knowledge back to the community and share their experiences with the hope it may create greater awareness of homelessness.

FCA US employees took home a great deal of knowledge and appreciation for the shelter after their day of volunteering.

Jennifer Dickow, a Commodity Manager at FCA US, organized and led the volunteer efforts that day.

“We were all surprised at the level of commitment from the volunteers that come on a regular basis. Several people that are living at this location came up to us and told us what a difference we made and were so gracious,” Dickow said. “It was impactful to know that a few hours out of your day could truly make a difference and help others.”