By Rebekah Miller, Covenant House Faith Community Volunteer
Covenant House is the largest non-profit organization in the Americas that supports homeless youth. Faith Community is a program that offers a small stipend for spending a year of service in one of four cities. We embrace three pillars: Service, Prayer, and Community. I am currently doing my year of service in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I am a Youth Advisor in the crisis shelter, meaning I am a resident advisor in the building and on the floors, and I do case management work with the youth.
How does your program support at-risk populations during the winter and holiday months?
The first thing we do is meet immediate needs, through food, clothing, showers, and a bed. We allow former residents to come in and shower, grab a warm cup of tea, wash some laundry, and eat a warm meal. We take in new youth and returning youth sometimes for an emergency overnight or other times residential services.
Donors bring in zip lock bags full of toiletries, hats, gloves, clothing, anything new and essential to staying warm and clean. Covenant House International has also been doing a blanket drive to obtain blankets to give out for the winter months coming up. On November 19th there was a Candlelight Vigil and Sleep Out. Through the sharing of personal stories about the struggles of living on the streets, lighting candles in memoriam, and sleeping outside in the cold and the rain, people across the county raised money to keep Covenant House doors open.
For Thanksgiving, turkeys were cooked and prayers of thanksgiving said. This month, we will hold services for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas along side a variety of parties with lots of food and gifts from lots of donors. We try to keep the merriment going throughout the holiday season so we plan a full schedule with Santa, presents, staff vs youth football games, craft nights, and so much more!
How do volunteers express solidarity?
We are present. The best things that a person can do at a homeless youth shelter is show up. The second best thing is listen. During the holiday months especially, the youth just want to know that the
staff are sticking around for the long haul; that we are there to share in laughter, joy, and life together through the cold and dark days. Sharing a meal together and laughing over corny jokes before stepping into an office to hear them cry about the stress and worry back home goes a long way for someone who was not supported, loved, or cared for while growing up. Then on some days we show up in crazy costumes and dance to the cha cha slide and give out candy until they are bouncing off the walls.
Faith Community volunteers are far away from home; I’m about 2,973 miles from my parents house, but who’s counting? So just like the youth, I find myself feeling lonely and isolated from the warmth and care of home. Luckily I found a home and a family at the shelter. That is why I chose to work a 16 hour shift on Thanksgiving, not for the glory of being deemed a hard worker, but to have a place to go, a place to belong. All the youth want are to be seen and to find their place in the world. During the holidays we open our doors and hearts to say that their temporary home is Covenant House and we can share in the struggles and joys together.
What have you learned through living simply?
We live simply in our house through buying things with lots of coupons and sales, bulk sections are one of my favorite things. We live with less “stuff”, we recycle, we share food and household items, we cut down on electricity use, and we walk a lot of places or try to utilize public transportation. Living simply is not just a way of living with less things though, it is a mindset.
I have come to see that simple living is embracing the humble mindset that I am nothing without God. I find significance in the quality of moments over the quantity of stuff. God is in the simple and sweet moments of life. I often stop to remember the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-17. God was not in the fire, wind, or earthquake; rather He was in the still, soft, whisper. To me that means that God is in the small stuff like a kind smile, a high five, a shared meal, a brief conversation, or a silly dance. To live simply is to seek joy and follow passions through the daily routines and small things, remembering that God is ever present. When life gets chaotic or stressful, I take a walk on the boardwalk or I open my Bible, and I let the gentle whisper brush against my ears.
For more information about becoming a member of the Covenant House Faith Community, please click here.