To say we couldn’t do what we do – change people’s lives – without our many volunteers would be an understatement of epic proportions! Between 300 and 400 people give generously of their time and talents each year at Freedom House – from making meals; to taking care of little ones so Mom & Dad can look for work, look for housing and take classes; to teaching and mentoring all our residents, we consider our volunteers Angels sent by God to do kingdom work– true heroes by any definition. One look into the faces of our residents when they realize that people in the community actually care is absolutely priceless. Be blessed as you learn about their heart for the downtrodden. Come learn their stories and be encouraged to make a difference just like them. They are the fabric of this incredible community we call home.
Katlyn Quigley: Katlyn Quigley, a student at Notre Dame high school, has been a volunteer at Freedom House since her freshman year, organizing donations in our free store and helping out with a craft room for our resident children, coming in a couple times each week. She’s very responsible, always emails us to let us know when she’s coming in, very positive influence, etc. In 2009, Katyln’s Confirmation Class at her church, St. Bernard/St. Phillip, challenged the teens to take $10 seed money, provided by the church, and “pay it forward,” doing something good with it in the community to see how God would multiply it.
Katlyn rose to the occasion and amazed everyone. It was shortly before Halloween and Katlyn got the idea to “trick or treat” for Freedom House. She created a flyer, enlisted the help of a friend and her younger brother, and then canvassed several neighborhoods the weekend before Halloween to let them know she’d be back on the holiday to collect for Freedom House. In her flyer, Katyln asked people to consider contributing to Freedom House in lieu of providing candy saying, “Some have so much while others have so little. We need to do our part to help those in need!!” She indicated no amount was too small and thanked them in advance for their generous hearts. Then, she went back to all those homes on Halloween (again enlisting help from friends and siblings) and collected their donations. She, herself, was amazed when she added up all the checks and cash and discovered she’d raised $1,500! Her church was so impressed; they added another $500 and Katlyn proudly brought $2,000 to Freedom House.
There is a verse in the bible, 1 Timothy 4:12 that says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example … in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Katlyn does that each and every day and if our future is in the hands of youth like her, it is a very bright future indeed! Because of her compassion, innovation, passion, leadership, perseverance and heart, she truly is making a difference in our community.
Sherri Cole: Sherri Cole has been involved as a volunteer with Freedom House for two years. She serves on our Ambassadors Council, a group of people who act as liaisons between Freedom House and their home churches to keep lines of communications open, celebrate together the work that God is doing in and through them and to share our needs and dreams for future efforts. She and her husband, Ed, came to Freedom House in 2008 and volunteered to do the Christmas Brunch – prepared and then served a special meal for our residents on Christmas morning. That day she met Toni, a single mother of a 7-year-old boy who had been in shelter just a couple weeks. They immediately hit it off and kept in contact throughout Toni’s 3-month stay at Freedom House.
When Toni had successfully reached all her goals and moved out into her own permanent housing in the community, Sherri and Ed became her Guardian Angels, another program at Freedom House that matches mentor families with graduating families to walk alongside them and help them re-assimilate into society. Shortly thereafter, Sherri discovered that this 38 year old had never had a birthday party, so she got to work right away and threw her the biggest bash anyone could dream of – can you imagine being 38 and never having a birthday party? Sherri came back in 2009 to do the Christmas brunch for our residents, and Toni came back with her to volunteer! You see, she’s become a giver, not a taker, and that’s what our mission is all about – to give people a vibrant life!
Sherri is the epitome of someone who lives to make a difference – she saw a need and immediately responded by helping out the “least of these” in our community. Her compassionate heart fell in love with a family and she walked alongside, giving a hand up, not a hand out; and she’s helped mentor that person to become someone who gives back to community. That’s a difference that will be felt for generations to come – generations that won’t have to live in the homeless conditions of their ancestor’s past because someone like Sherri stepped in to break that cycle of helplessness. Although the Coles are just two of hundreds of selfless volunteers, their story captures the heart of Freedom House and our mission.
Financial Education Group: Freedom House offers a variety of training, but only two of those classes are mandatory for all residents – parenting and financial planning. The group of dedicated volunteers who teach our financial planning classes created a comprehensive Financial Planning workbook that teaches resident families financial basics, from how to balance a check book to how to do mock job interviews and resume writing – skills that most people may have learned at the direction of their parents or high schools but, often information our families have never received. The Financial Planning class is a crucial part of our program and a reason our families no longer need to depend on public funding to survive.
Learning the basics of financial planning may seem simplistic, but this group understands the need for strong financial foundations and that passion is what they impart to our resident families. Through their efforts, our families are being retrained and, ultimately, become strong, capable employees that make up a huge part of the Green Bay/Brown County work force. They empower our families to be more confident in handling their finances and help them find fulfilling, meaningful careers, not just “jobs.”
In essence, their efforts help reduce the fastest growing segment of the homeless population – families. They are also helping our families to rid themselves of the bad financial habits they’ve been taught, and give them the right tools they need to not return to homelessness. Their impact is being felt not just today but for generations to come.
The people who make up our financial planning educators include Nicole Craig, Cristin Elsing, Heather Hunter, Tammy McIver-Gay, Steve Miller, Mike Stearney and Jodie Woodke. Combined, they’ve volunteered 11 years for Freedom House and spend collectively 60 hours each week training our residents to become financially self-sufficient.
This group reconstructed a 5-year program into a better, more comprehensive and efficient 8-to-12 week program for our families. They took the “teachings” from a classroom environment that tended to be too general for all the unique circumstances our families face, and turned it into a mentoring relationship. They try to have at least one or two volunteers to every 2 residents, and that one-on-one attention is priceless. The unique tapestry of this team provides our families with budgeting expertise, mock job interview skills, resume writing and the basics of good spending habits. This team has initiated several meetings with Freedom House staff in order to be sure they are in line with our vision, goals, case management and aftercare so that families are being given consistent, supportive messages. They also took the step to recognize the efforts of our families by incorporating a certificate once residents finish the class. Before this, the class did not include an “ending point,” but now residents can “graduate” from it and that’s brought a huge sense of accomplishment and confidence – something many of our residents have never felt or not felt for a very long time. Now, when a resident graduates, they ask WHEN they will receive their certificate. It’s quite possible it is the first time in their life they have something to show for the work they completed. Words cannot adequately describe the impact that has on their lives going forward, that sense of meaning, fulfillment and the ability to overcome whatever may come their way, truly life skills!
One of the biggest challenges for this team was to tailor the budgeting section of this class around the fact that most of our families do not have any money to budget. But the bigger challenge was learning the struggles of homelessness, empathy for those in situations night and day different than their own. Through several different tries and updates of the workbook, they finally found the right combination for this challenge.
They also struggled with the challenge of receiving credit scores, identification, and working with our donated and often technologically challenged computers and printers for resumes. However, the biggest challenge may have been their personal struggle to truly understand what it is like to be homeless, a situation none of them have ever experienced. This is what makes their team dynamic, because as volunteers they could have been content following a system we already had in place; instead they saw an opportunity for improvement and worked together as strangers with a common goal – to improve the lives of these families, a goal they’ve accomplished with shining success.
Beyond the group dynamic, several of these volunteers go above and beyond just the Financial Planning program:
Steve Miller: Steve Miller not only teaches two sessions of the financial class, he also created a program for our teens on Tuesday evenings, sharing his love of music in a way that resonates with teens. Steve plays Christian music videos and CDs during class time, hoping to open their eyes to a world of positive music. By exposing them to all different genres, he hopes to capture all types of music lovers and help them see that encouraging lyrics may help them get through the challenging times in their lives.
Steve also has sponsored journals for each teen that moves into Freedom House. These journals have encouraging sayings throughout and offer space for drawings and writing for the teens to use as an outlet for their own thoughts and feelings as they work to process the fact that they are a homeless teen.
The last part of what he implements within the teen class is a give back, teaching society’s “takers” to become some of its most ardent “givers.” Parkview Manner, a nursing home that is neighbor to Freedom House, is their “adopted” project. Steve has brought in card making kits for the teens to decorate for Parkview’s residents.
Once a month Steve takes our teens to Parkview to celebrate resident birthdays, always an eye opening experience for our teens because in their world, people may give to them, but Steve found it important for them to learn what it was like to give back. Around Christmas time, Steve gathers some of his family members and they all take our teens to Parkview to sing Christmas carols. Steve has opened the door for an outlet for our teens and cultivated a great relationship with our neighbors.
Heather Hunter: Heather Hunter leads the Financial Planning Group; she organizes the schedules of the team and contacts them if there are any changes. Heather is also the Freedom House Ambassador from her church, Green Bay Community. She has organized groups, referred individual volunteers and orchestrated a slot in one of their services for Freedom House President, Robyn Davis, to speak to the congregation. Heather also led several other groups that volunteered at Freedom House where she directed cleaning and home improvement days. She served as a volunteer assistant to our House Supervisor staff for almost a year as well.
Nicole Craig: Nicole Craig works for a Neurology clinic in Green Bay. She is a recent addition to our Financial Planning Team and one of the things she noticed immediately was the need for an interpreter for one of our residents. Instead of simply bringing this to our attention, Nicole acted and approached one of the doctors in the clinic she works for to ask him to help make translation possible and he heartily agreed. Nicole is the epitome of seeing a need and acting immediately to address that need, being the impetus behind the solution not just the identifier of the problem.