WINS Volunteer Marie Coleman Shares What She's Learned Through Volunteering and Caring for Our Homeless
My willingness to volunteer with the WINS program really started many years ago. I was a young 21-year-old girl who went to work in the grocery business. Yes, I did grocery booking, checking, and bagging. But what is interesting about this job is that I was a WASP from a very nice family and comfortable neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. I only knew that Van Nuys Blvd went north and stopped at the major department stores Robinsons and Bullocks. I never expected to be driving past my favorite shopping center and discovering that Van Nuys Blvd went east and west.
Then one day I found myself going into uncharted territory where nothing looked familiar. I stopped at a gas station to ask for directions and was told, "Oh, get back in your car and go back where you came from."
"I can't," I said. "I have a job to go to."
He told me to drive a little further and I would come to the train tracks and when I thought I'd gone too far to keep going. I'd finally see a purple building (a structure like today's Super Wal-Mart) and that's where I needed to be.
This was a summer vacation relief job for the grocery company I was working for. The very disadvantaged neighborhood was a mix of African-Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics, all of whom shopped at the store. This was a new experience for me, so I did my two weeks' work and went on to another vacation relief assignment.
Little did I know that at the end of August they were opening a new store not more than 10 minutes from my home, right in the middle of my "comfort zone".
You already know what I'm going to say—yes, I went back to the store in Pacoima and spent four years working with, and learning about, people from other cultures and walks of life. I learned a lot.
I volunteered at the local "Teen Post," a place for teens to go after school. I curled many a young lady's hair, getting her ready for a dance. I called a probation officer once, told him one of his "boys" was one of my pets, and asked what I could do to help him. He said he had to meet me because no one had ever called him to see what they could do for a boy on probation. Oh, the stories go on and on...
I cried my eyes out when I left that area and through the years I've often wondered how all those folks were doing and where they were today.
So, coming to volunteer for the WINS program was just as eye-opening as my days in Pacoima.
Once again, I've learned a lot. These men, women and children are just like me but haven't been able to overcome some of the hardships they've encountered today. They are looking to live the best life they can, seeking a job, housing, and a way to move forward. They grasp at every opportunity to use the resources available to them through WINS.
And it is a blessing that we have the Freds, Lindas, Debbies, and Marks who have given hours and hours of their own lives to assist our guests in any way they can. What I've done is very minor compared to the dedication of those I've mentioned.
It just takes lots of volunteers and churches to help us with this unfortunate situation we have here in Elk Grove. I'm happy to see the young church members come and help serve dinners so they can be thankful that Mom and Dad are looking out for them and doing the best they can. They are being exposed to some of life's realities at an early age which is wonderful because they will be better prepared to help those less fortunate in the coming years.
And as I write this article, it saddens me to know that tonight is the last night of our Winter Sanctuary. Our guests will be on their own tomorrow morning and I wonder where they will seek shelter for the rest of this month through the inclement weather and on into the spring and summer until we open again in the fall.
Best of Luck, my friends! Stay safe and I hope you find shelter, warmth, and happiness.