By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA — Twenty thousand hours a year is a lot of time. When you think about it, it’s the equivalent of 10 full-time jobs. That’s the number of volunteer hours that will have been logged for the year ending June 30 at Philadelphia’s St. John’s Hospice on Race Street and its next-door satellite operation, the Good Shepherd Program, estimates Gerard Huot, director of community relations for St. John’s.
“I think that’s a record,” he said.
This doesn’t include the many people at home who prepare casseroles for meals, but it does include 6,000 hours by on-site by inspaniduals and couples, more than 13,000 hours by school, church and business groups and maybe 700 hours of court-ordered community service, which technically shouldn’t count because let’s face it, community service beats sitting in jail. But most volunteers are there willingly and love it.
“I once heard it said that volunteerism is ‘love in motion,'” said Kevin Barr, program director of St. John’s, which feeds hundreds of men daily and shelters 40 overnight, as well as Good Shepherd, which houses medically fragile homeless men.
“The description certainly applies to our long-term and consistent volunteers at St. John’s,” he said. “Through their selfless service to the homeless men who come through our doors, the love flows from God through them to these homeless men and back to these volunteers. None of them wants a pat on the back, they just want to be part of this loving flow. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.”
Just who are these St. John’s volunteers? For one there is Frank Kling (see back page). He is a committed Catholic; others may not be either Catholic or Christian; they are just good people.
Eileen Kelly, a member of St. Albert the Great Parish in Huntingdon Valley, is a faculty member of Drexel University’s nursing program at Hahnemann Medical Center. She brings nursing students to St. John’s several times a year.
“It humbles them to see a different population out there. It has a strong impact on them,” she said. “Their perception of what it is like before they go is completely different; it is enriching for them. It’s exciting and increases their knowledge and they respond positively.”
Natalie Borokhovsky and her husband Michael emigrated from Russia about 20 years ago. She is Christian, he is Jewish. About five years ago they called around to different shelters asking if they needed volunteers, and St. John’s was the only one to respond. In addition to their work of preparing and distributing food at St. John’s monthly, they also distribute food to the homeless in Logan Square and work with several charities through the Friends in Need Foundation.
“We buy food, we get some from restaurants and from my friends that like to cook,” Natalie Borokhovsky said. “This is something we want to do, something for the community.”
Frank and Rosemary Shields, formerly of St. Andrew Parish in Newtown and now members of Old St. Mary’s Parish in Philadelphia, really started volunteering at St. John’s during Lent in 2009 at Rosemary’s suggestion. They discovered it wasn’t a sacrifice, it was something they very much enjoyed doing.
Now they volunteer on Wednesdays and Fridays serving meals to the 40 men in residence at St. John’s and the 12 at Good Shepherd.
“You get to know some of the fellows, and I like to see them move on,” Frank Shields said. “You get more out of it than you give. It brings you closer to people you wouldn’t otherwise know and they are so extremely thankful.”
Mary and Steve Carroll come over monthly from Audubon, N.J. Both hold degrees in social work from Rutgers University, and Mary assists Steve in his work as a psychotherapist.
They have been coming to Good Shepherd monthly for the past five or six years to spend a night with the men sitting and talking, arranging games and graduation parties when someone is ready to leave.
“I feel Good Shepherd is a sacred place,” Mary Carroll said. “I didn’t know much about it, but I felt immediately at home when we started coming. These men are heroes, overcoming obstacles we can’t even imagine. We try to create joy and laughter there.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.