After helping serve a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, coffee and bakery products, Robert Harrell, a guest volunteer with the Gathering, took some time to chat with me about his experiences with volunteering, homelessness and much more.
Robert started volunteering during his 2 year-long struggle with homelessness. He was encouraged to stick around with the Gathering because he was such a hard worker and dedicated volunteer. Today, he has been volunteering for three years, almost five days a week, and has become a valuable asset to the Gathering’s breakfast program.
Robert is often seen volunteering on the floor at the breakfast meal. He helps by assisting guests while they eat, but he doesn’t work on the floor just to refill coffee—he spends tons of time checking in with guests and greeting familiar faces. For many Gathering guests, Robert has become somewhat of a mentor. He is frequently seen sharing his story, listening and giving advice to others.
“A lot of people don’t understand how homelessness is. People don’t know how hard it is. You can lose your job, all your money, just like that, it happens,” Robert explained. “I used to be homeless just like the guests. I feel like I need to give something back because I understand what its like.”
During Robert’s two years of homelessness, he dealt with a lot of negative attitudes and people judging him because of his appearance or situation.
“When you’re homeless, people call you a ‘bum’ but you can’t say stuff like that. You don’t know what that person has gone through. So, now, when somebody asks me something I try to give them an answer. A lot of people tell me thanks…thanks for listening or thanks for the advice. Just the simple conversation can be helpful and makes people happier.”
Robert prides himself on being a loyal friend and a good listener. His attitude perfectly reflects the Gathering’s mission to provide meals with respect and dignity. Robert understands that no matter what your situation may be, a little bit of warmth, compassion and a listening ear can actually make a difference.
“People come with a certain attire, or maybe a bad odor, or certain mannerisms that don’t make sense. But you can’t look at people like they are lesser than you because of the way they look. I never look at people like that. You don’t know what that person has been through. Some people have been awake all night long, or slept outside, or are dealing with something serious.”
Regardless of what people are going through, the Gathering works to promote an open environment where guests can get not only a meal, but also the respect and dignity they deserve. It is individuals like Robert that help make this mission a reality. So remember, no matter who you are or where you are coming from, the Gathering—and Robert—welcomes you!