I walked into our Drop-In Centre area the other day and observed Robert, who volunteers at the front desk, talking with a young woman needing toothpaste. Robert reached behind the counter for a box full of toothpaste and asked “So, are you a Crest or a Colgate girl?”
It seemed a simple question but it was much more. Rather than just hand this young woman a tube of toothpaste, Robert engaged with her: he recognized that homeless or not, everyone has a preference for toothpaste. They kept on chatting and I couldn’t help but wonder if that conversation would have continued had Robert not taken that extra little step to take care of this young woman.
The young people who come to CSS are for the most part, pretty entrenched in street life. We meet their basic needs, whether it’s clothing, accommodation searches or a referral to a psychiatrist. Our youth workers and volunteers build relationships with the young people who come to CSS in the hopes that trust will be earned; perhaps enough that a young person will take that first brave step and enter our Crisis Program. Anyone who has ever had to ask for help can relate to how difficult this is: an admission of vulnerability or an acknowledgement that things aren’t “perfect” takes tremendous courage.
So when a young a person comes to us and they see that they are supported not only by our youth workers, but also by someone who volunteers, the difficulty of asking for help is cushioned by the knowledge that they are not alone. We asked our young people why they think people volunteer at Covenant House, the responses were heartwarming and in some cases, quite funny:
“Many reasons. For one, staff can’t do everything at once, they have enough on their hands as it is”
“Because, personally, I need help and people here HELPED me. When I need someone to talk to they were there to help”
“Volunteers prove that some humans still care for their fellow men and women without monetary concern.”
“Cause they’re cool”
“Because any extra help is good. Youth need any and all the help they can get.”
So our hats are off to Robert and all of our other volunteers who through their donations of time, talent (and often treasure too) show our youth that they are worthy of someone’s time and attention and that their needs are important — whether it’s a new pair of shoes, a hot meal or the wonderful feeling that comes when you know someone is interested in what you have to say and your preference in toothpaste.