5 Reasons Why you Should Volunteer at a Shelter

The first time I walked through the doors of Chez Doris in 2007, a lovely outreach worker named Betty greeted me with a beaming smile at the front desk. I had a bag of women’s clothing to donate and shyly asked them if they were looking for volunteers. Did I have any real skills to offer? Would I get upset working with the homeless and go home feeling that same way? I only knew that I wanted to do something with my spare time that had nothing to do with work or studies and somehow help women in my city. Betty put me in touch with her colleague Shannon who said they were looking for someone to cheer the ladies up on weekends. We decided I could offer make-up and manicures on alternate Sundays from 10am to 3pm and see what happens. I did this for 3 years and the impact was life changing in the most unexpected and positive ways. Photo: Soeur Dolores Coulombe and me

1. Non-profits do a lot with very little
A Women’s Shelter like Chez Doris turns donations into precious supplies and resources. From clothing to food and art supplies, the staff finds creative ways to feed, clothe and provide tools for social interactions; food donations are turned into nurturing hot meals or food baskets, volunteers recycle wool sweaters and fabric to sew mittens, and rooms become multifunctional spaces for art classes or teaching women how to cook on a budget.

2. Understand your neighbors—the homeless
A day shelter like Chez Doris is a first step for many women. Abuse, poverty, mental illness and social isolation bring them to Chez Doris for help when all other resources have failed. Beds and space for women is limited and underfunded in Montreal. A visit to the Shelter is an eye opener; 100 women may pass through their doors on any given day.

3. Discover and hone your people skills
Volunteering at Chez Doris will put you in contact with other volunteers and staff who have experience and knowledge to share. Working with the women is a lesson in patience, kindness and being a good listener. A huge part of being a good volunteer is the simple act of speaking to the women and sharing your time with them.

4. Volunteering is good for your mind
Doctors tell us that social isolation is an obstacle to healing for both the mind and body. The satisfaction one feels after spending a few hours making someone happy is priceless; you made a difference in someone’s life. Someone who needed to break out of their lonely existence. The women I met and spent time with at the shelter are so happy to have a person to talk to and they value interactions with people that we take for granted. On the street they are ignored and avoided. At the shelter they are valued and made to feel at home. It is meaningful to know that you have the power to make someone happy simply by spending time with them.

5. You can make a difference in your city
If the sight of someone homeless in your day-to-day is something that bothers you, consider volunteering at a shelter. It is a hands-on experience, where you can see the good that comes of giving your time to the less fortunate. If you do not have the time to volunteer, choose a shelter and ask them how you can help. You can collect food, funds, organize an activity, or buy tickets to one of their fundraising events. They would love to hear from you.

Talar Dikijian
Volunteer & Board member
Chez Doris