One of the most beautiful things about community is that it opens people up to making real connections, building deep bonds and intentionally appreciating another person for who they are. This intentionality, however, can make saying “goodbye” all the more difficult. At the end of September, the Gathering will say goodbye to George Neureuther, who has been a cornerstone in our community for eight years.
George began working full time with the Gathering eight years ago as the Volunteer Manager and Breakfast Coordinator. He then transitioned into a part time role as the Breakfast Coordinator and began working with Interchange Food Pantry as well. At the end of September 2014, George will be working full time as Interchange Food Pantry’s Executive Director. He will be sorely missed.
When asked to share one of his most memorable experiences with the Gathering’s breakfast program, George explained one rather peculiar and special connection with a guest by the name of Eddy.
“Eddy had been homeless for 25 years. He always came in the morning, gave me a piece of paper, a napkin, or maybe an empty bottle of mouthwash to sign. It had his name, the date on it, and where to sign it. Every day I’d give him pen and paper and he would write down his name and the Gathering and the date. It was a routine like that. I got used to it. One day I ran into him (outside of breakfast) and we had coffee together. Eddy talked about downtown Milwaukee in the 70s, and he described it to a ‘T’. He was just a really interesting, fantastic guy.”
Eddy certainly wasn’t the only guest George connected with. While a signature may seem incidental, it is such connections and routines, small and large, that George was able to use to foster a warm, welcoming atmosphere at the breakfast program:
“I’m going to miss the camaraderie with our guests. By far that’s the thing I’ll really miss - the feeling that you’re really amongst friends and family. Because that’s what (our guests) do - they connect with each other and try to be there for each other. Even though there may at times be problems between guests, for the most part they’re always looking out for each other. That taught me a lesson to be more compassionate to people I’ve met.”
George’s unwavering compassion left an impact on a lot of guests, but the Gathering’s guests also left an impact on him. George explained what the Gathering taught him over the years:
“I’ve come to an understanding about being more compassionate, how important it is to treat everyone the same, with kindness and respect. You never have the right to treat anybody negatively. Our guests have always taught me about being patient. They have to wait in line here for breakfast; they may have to go to a medical clinic and wait in line an hour or two there; go for a shower somewhere and have to wait another hour there. They’re very patient and it has taught me to practice more patience. Also, they taught me the ability to share. When you see someone who has 50 cents and that person gives a quarter to somebody else so they can catch the bus…It’s pretty touching. It shows you that giving is really important, even if it hurts you a little bit, it’s important.”
Breakfast program guests and volunteers alike have vocalized how much they will miss George and thanked him for all of his hard work.
“He is really a kind and good-hearted man.” – Jim, Dinner Program Coordinator and Operations Manager
“One talent George has brought to the Gathering is his ability to connect with guests and volunteers. I will miss his humor and light-heartedness the most. I know he will be missed…He will be missed by us, but also he will be missed tremendously by the guests. He has developed relationships with many of our regular guests and our regular volunteers. I think we’re going to have a lot of questions asked in the next couple weeks about where he is!” – Marianne, Office and Database Manager
“I'm positive he has done many things for many people outside his official duties for The Gathering. While my granddaughter Hannah was recuperating after her tonsil surgery, he sent her a get well card with a McDonald’s gift certificate inside. She, whenever possible, would come to work with me and the highlight for her would be seeing and talking to George. He once hid a potato in the hood of her sweatshirt with the pretense of giving her a hug and she still talks about ‘Crazy George hiding a potato.’ I have always been impressed with his compassion for the guests and volunteers and his communication skills that were used daily promoting the vision of the Gathering with our volunteers.” – Dennis, Operations Manager
“Whether it’s guests, volunteers, whoever – George recognizes the importance of getting everyone involved and including everyone into the community. No one is ever excluded with George, no matter how difficult that person may be to work with – he was always able find a spot for him/her. When I first started working with The Gathering, he trusted and encouraged me and he still does today, two years later. It means a lot. One thing I learned from George is to never take anything too seriously. This line of work can sometimes be exhausting, but George always had a smile and a joke. He always had a positive word to say to his guests and volunteers. He fostered an environment of joy at the breakfast program and whoever comes next will have big shoes to fill.” – Becky, Program and Volunteer Manager
“I have worked with George for over eight years now as his supervisor. He has a unique ability to relate to all types of people, both the guest population and volunteers, and he is beloved. Being the Breakfast Coordinator is not an easy job. You have to be awake and hospitable at 6:30 in the morning whether you are facing a sunny day, pouring rain or a blizzard. You have to be able to build a team of diverse volunteers from both our guest population and the community at large, whether from a business, a school, a church or just curious…every single day. And it is never the same group. You have to be willing and able to deal with difficult situations from both the guest and volunteer populations and to do so in a respectful manner. You have to be hospitable and welcoming even if you don’t feel like it, and you have to be able to say ‘no’ when the person desperately wants you to say ‘yes’. Thank you George for eight years of doing all of that with compassion and grace.” – Ginny, Executive Director
It is clear that George has truly left an impact on the Gathering’s breakfast program and community. Although this may be a goodbye, we know that this is just another chapter of kindness and compassion for George and we look forward to seeing where his passion will take him next. In the meantime, we will miss our usual suspect.