Volunteers have been the backbone of MCC for over 100 years and continue to have immeasurable impact in many different areas of MCC’s work. From service work overseas to sorting clothes at MCC Thrift shops, to walking with people who have been pushed to the margins of society, our volunteers have shared love and compassion in too many ways to count. But when we ask our volunteers to talk about their work, their humble hearts often prevent them from truly sharing the impact of their work. Hence, to show the real value of our volunteers, we have turned to a program participant to tell us what her volunteers have meant to her.

Group of people sitting and laughing in woods.

Circle of Friends participants, volunteers, and staff enjoy a pre-pandemic retreat in 2019.MCC photo/Kimberlee Walker

Gwen* is a participant of Circle of Friends, a program that supports folks transitioning out of homelessness into stable housing. The premise is simple people with a strong and healthy social network (even if it’s small) have a far better chance of staying housed. For Gwen, the feeling of having people she could count on and be connected with was not something she was used to. Gwen reflects, “I wasn’t really familiar with ‘belonging’ until recently – it’s a tricky concept for someone who spends a lot of time in their own head, who lives with learned experience of feeling ‘in the way.’ I’m used to hearing and internalizing that I’m the problem.”

This all changed for Gwen when she met her Circle, a group of three women who decided to take time out of every week to support somebody they’d never met. “When I met my Circle, I suddenly realized these ladies had volunteered a whole year worth of their time and energy on speaking to and listening to and caring about ME, without asking for anything back,” recalls Gwen. “They had adopted me...they’re doing it for ME. They give me a safe place where I know I’ll get honesty, patience, kindness, and trust. Plus, they’re ladies of quality, which sort of blows my mind a bit when I think about it. They’re each different to me in age and background, but we have discovered things in common and been able to help each other in big and little ways. I know that each of them has actively sought out ways to connect, [by doing] little things to bring us closer each week. And I have too. That’s amazing.”

The pandemic was a tough time for Gwen and for many who relied on in-person interaction and were not used to virtual meetings. She admitted that she drifted away from her Circle for a time, but Circle of Friends staff and her Circle friends did not give up on her. “They gently coaxed and revisited and worked around my apprehension about Zoom, and chipped away at my complete distrust of the new dynamic, helping me figure it out without making me feel like I was defective,” reflects Gwen. “They had me zooming in no time.”

Her newfound confidence on Zoom actually opened up new opportunities for Gwen beyond just meeting with her Circle. Gwen explains, “I’ve used it with the YWCA too, for groups and social sessions, and with my ODSP Employment Supports worker to start improving my supports and untangle my disabilities in an attempt to find a pathway back to employment.” She was able to book sessions with an educational psychologist who recommended a number of actions to better equip Gwen to be able to focus during class. Additionally, she’s been able to reconnect with family in a way that she hasn’t for a long time. A big part of this growth was her Circle friends encouraging her, being present with her, and empowering her to step into her own strength.

“I grew up struggling to trust, with family dysfunction and undiagnosed learning disorders making it difficult for me to hone the skills needed for connecting with others on a meaningful level,” says Gwen. But thanks to her new friends, she has become braver and more connected with her community. “I belong to more because of them.”

*To protect the privacy of the program participant, we have used a pseudonym.

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We are deeply grateful for all of our volunteers. If you would like to explore volunteering with MCC’s local programs, please click here to explore your options. If you are interested in volunteering for Circle of Friends specifically, contact Cindy MacRae.