Volunteer Spotlight: Ray Pryor

For Ray Pryor, not volunteering with the Gathering was never an option. Ray has always been a hard worker and prides himself on his ethic and work commitment. As long as Ray eats meals at the Gathering, he will volunteer his time, energy and expertise to give back.

Ray and regular UWM volunteer Elena pause after a busy breakfast meal

Ray and regular UWM volunteer Elena pause after a busy breakfast meal

Ray was laid off. Once his unemployment ran out, he struggled to keep his head above water while dealing with homelessness. In order to stay busy, Ray has volunteered with the Gathering’s breakfast program Monday-Friday for almost a year.

“[Volunteering] gave me something to do ‘cause I just got laid off. I didn’t feel like I just wanted to walk around all day not doing anything, so this gave me something to do in the morning. I come every day. Every day. Most of the time it does take my mind off of a lot of stuff. So, it’s good for now. I appreciate the people. Networking and stuff. Cause y’all do get a lot of really good volunteers that are really nice.”

Aside from volunteering, Ray spends a lot of time on the job hunt, making phone calls, doing research and applying for various positions. Over the past 20 years he has held jobs in Waukesha, Portage, the Dells and Milwaukee.

Despite his work ethic and commitment, Ray explained that, “karma gets bad and you end up back where you started.”

For those of us who have not experienced homelessness, getting laid off and ending up on the streets may seem impossible. Ray demonstrates that because of globalization and the job market, it is not as distant as you think.

“You work for a job for 16 years. Then the company decides, we’re giving you employees too much money and we’re paying the state too much money. We’re gonna move down to Mexico. And you’re like 45 … 48 … now you try to get another job before your unemployment runs out, but a lot of companies they want the young kids and stuff like that, they’re looking at your age. So you study, you’re knocking on doors, all of a sudden, unemployment runs out, you can’t get an extension, you lose everything. So you’re stuck, out here, in the middle of winter and hoping that there’s an old folks site that they will let you go to and get out of the cold. Now I gotta get off the cotton-pickin’ streets before winter time comes because if I don’t, I’m sleeping outside until the temperature is so unbearable that they will let me in because they got an overflow site.”

Thankfully, Ray is hard-working and focused. He is able to stay strong and positive to set his mind on volunteering at many different places, applying for jobs, and surrounding himself with positive friends and people who support him.

“You have to keep your head on straight. Cause if you don’t you end up out here for 20 or 30 years and wonder what happened to your life.”

The Gathering helps him be positive and focused. He feels comfortable and supported at the Gathering.

“I like it over here [at the St. James’ breakfast site]. I really do. See, I used to come here back in the 80s before I started working again. I didn’t volunteer then but I had a buddy that worked here. And … I like it here for the simple reason that from the first time I started coming over here until now, don’t matter who they have running it or who they have working it - they always have the same mentality that they had back then. And that mentality is to treat people with dignity and remind them that they’re not an animal and that things get better. When you treat people with respect, and stuff like that, they tend to not think that they know better than anybody else. We’re all the same, Everybody goes through certain things. That’s the way it was back then and it still holds true to now.”

It is the dedication and strong example of guest volunteers that keeps the Gathering focused on promoting dignity and respect. It is the consistent commitment of all volunteers that keeps the Gathering’s mission alive. And, in the end, it is individuals like Ray who set an example for others experiencing hardship. This network of individuals makes ending hunger and homelessness a real possibility.