Volunteering at Our Place Strengthens Community for All
Some people may turn their heads to avoid interacting with those experiencing homelessness and poverty in our community, unsure, and even afraid, of what they might see or experience if they do. Grayg Mitrou, an Application architect and small business owner, and now a member of Our Place’s dedicated team of 300+ volunteers, shares that he was one of those people.
“I used to have a fear of walking down here [around Pandora Avenue],” says Grayg, who spends time every week serving meals in Our Place’s downtown community centre dining room. “I used to feel like ‘out of sight, out of mind’; I wanted nothing to do with what was happening down here.” Grayg would have never imagined that he’d have anything in common with “that population”.
His judgment was quick to change, however, after his wife Shirley convinced him to step out of his comfort zone, challenge this belief system and become a volunteer at the Our Place community centre.
“I walked in for my first shift, and it was totally an eye-opener for me,” says Grayg. “I met people, and I saw people in different situations and heard their stories. I thought, ‘These people are just like me – that’s just me without a bank account. That’s just me without a family to support me. That’s just me with too many drugs in my system. Now I realize it’s us – we’re all in the same river together, just trying to navigate through different circumstances. Being here is one of my favourite parts of the week.”
Shirley, a facilitator for a personal development company who served over 20 years with the BC public service, became involved when the COVID pandemic began, when health distancing protocols required many people living in shelters to move outdoors throughout the city.
“It’s the first time I was ever introduced to the family members,” Shirley says. “I knew I had huge prejudices and biases going into it, but I was so compelled to help wherever I could in such a desperate situation. It’s easy to have opinions of people from the sidelines, but there’s no better way to learn and grow than to experience something head on, face-to-face.”
Shirley reviewed the online volunteer information and applied at Our Place to volunteer her time in the clothing and hygiene areas at 919 Pandora. She was accepted, oriented and hooked after her first shift.
“It was my very first day here,” Shirley recalls. “I remember a woman coming in and she told me all about her son who was about to get married, and she needed a nice dress to wear. That conversation was so beautiful, as we worked together to pick one out, what colour she might like, what shoes would work with the outfit, all of those little things that brought such a huge
smile to her face.”
Shirley believes that we are all connected, and we need to live in such a way that embraces that, despite individual barriers or circumstances. She says, “For me, it’s about that interrelationship, human to human, at that moment. It’s not all that other stuff about where people live, and the challenges they may be facing. It’s about somebody treating a person in a way that says to them, ‘I see you, and you matter.’”
Shirley and Grayg both agree that volunteering at Our Place has been a life-changing experience for them. “Every day that I am here, something happens that makes me dig deeper within myself,”
Adds Shirley, “Being in the community centre is where you get to see the real contribution you’re making. And to realize, yes it’s the money that’s needed, but volunteering also gives you, and the people you serve, that added dignity. It’s the conversations you have, the eye contact you exchange, the relationships you build. This community now more than ever needs love and care.”
Grayg has even started to experience and celebrate in the successes that he’s witnessed while volunteering. “There was a woman here I got to know who came in for meals. We would chat every once in a while. She was always sort of down. She didn’t sleep very much. She had a bad back, and everything else that was going on with her. Then one day she came in and said, ‘I got a job!’ She
was so excited to be working in the community again. She has a brand new life, just like that! It’s so great to see stuff like that happen in here.”
Your donations provide a community unlike any other, where volunteers, staff and family members come together for the gift of connection behind the doors at Our Place. Lives really can change for the better as a result of these positive interactions that your support for volunteer coordination and various programs make possible.