Monday, August 31, 2009
Volunteer of the Month: Debbie Stewart
Beth was homeless for over 4 years when she decided to get clean and find housing. Through her methadone program, Beth and her partner were able to find a subsidized apartment. Beth and Ed had a long-term relationship with one of JOIN's Outreach Workers, and when they were ready to move inside, JOIN helped pay the deposit and other move-in fees. After an 8 year battle, Beth's SSI claim was finally approved last April, giving her a monthly income and allowing her to be financially self-sufficient.
Steve, Beth's Retention Worker at JOIN, encouraged Beth to get involved with some of the community-building activities and events that JOIN offers. Beth came to Sunset Presbyterian's monthly dinner where she met Debbie, a member of the church who was interested in volunteering with JOIN. Steve asked Debbie if she would be interested in becoming a "friendly visitor," visiting Beth in her home and supporting her transition to stability. Debbie and Beth both agreed to meet.
Debbie realized that she and Beth were going to hit it off, despite their different backgrounds, on one of their first visits: "We seem to enjoy a similar quirky sense of humor. I think I knew this first when she was telling me about her habit of chewing ice. She was telling me once about going through a couple of 5 pound bags of ice every couple of days. I said very seriously, 'You know that chewing ice is really bad for your teeth?' She looks at me with her nearly toothless grin and says, 'I'll remember that!' And we both cracked up. It was a moment that for some people might have been awkward for one or both of us but instead we both saw the ridiculousness of it."
Soon after Debbie started visiting Beth, Beth's partner Ed passed away. Debbie was one of the first people Beth called when she found Ed in their apartment. Debbie was and continues to be "grateful for Beth's trust in me and being willing to share something so personal." The two women soon grew close and for almost a year now spend every Tuesday together. This kind of friendship is new for Beth, she says, "I've never really had anybody in my life besides my significant other. I learned that I need other people too." Beth received a large back payment from social security when her claim was approved, and was intimidated by having to manage money for the first time in her life. Debbie is helping Beth learn to budget, advising her on when it's appropriate to "splurge" and when she should spend wisely.
Beth and Debbie start every Tuesday morning at the coffee shop near Beth's apartment, and decide what the day will hold. They do a variety of things including visits to the Rose Garden, manicures, and shopping. Beth says that Debbie is a great listener--"I can talk to her and open up to her. She hangs on to every word I say and really listens. If there's something I don't know I can ask her and she will get on the internet and look it up!" Both women express how grateful they are for the friendship, and how much they both have learned from each other. Beth said, "I would never give her up, she is worth millions."
Thank you Debbie for your dedication to Beth and JOIN. People like you help make it possible for formerly homeless individuals to permanently break the cycle of homelessness and find strong, vibrant, and supportive communities.