“As you know, volunteer projects this size don’t happen accidentally,” says Jan Gunter of The Salvation Army. “This was a huge coordinated effort between our team and theirs.”
The shelter serves more than 250 people each night, many of whom are families. When a family arrives, the first job is to stabilize their basic needs: food, shelter, safety. Families, usually mothers with children, can stay up to 90 days, so in that time the children will need a place for homework, playing. That’s where the Learning Center comes in.
But the Learning Center needed a facelift. When Hannah Nokes of EZCORP reached out to The Salvation Army to see where the company could help, she could see that the Learning Center facelift would be a great project. It would give her volunteer colleagues an opportunity for hands-on work with visible progress and real impact. It would also give team members a chance to bond in ways they never would outside of the office, and take some of her colleagues out of their comfort zones.
“The funny thing was that some of the EZCORP team members were really nervous about it,” says Nokes. “By far this project was the most hands-on and physical thing we’ve done. Plus, I know it’s out of my comfort zone to go downtown and work in a homeless facility, and you could tell that this was pushing them out of their comfort zone a little bit, too.
“But you could also see the impact very clearly,” Nokes continues. “You could see clients and kids around the shelter. In the end, though, several of our employees said let’s come back and do that again.”
The project took at least two months of planning, and there were a number of surprising details. Tearing out old tile, for example, meant making sure it didn’t have asbestos first, which added a few days to the project and required temporarily closing off the shelter to families staying there.
“I’m just really impressed with the Salvation Army staff,” says Nokes. “They were just as committed to this being a good experience for the volunteers as they were to it having a good outcome for their clients.”
“We could not have done it without them,” says Gunter. “The Learning Center needed updates, the laundry room. We’ll always have more needs than the abilities to meet those needs. When EZCORP came along saying they wanted to help in some way, we were kind of able to dream big.”
THE LAUNDRY ROOM, after
Now that EZCORP employees have not only been inside the shelter, but also have had a hand in remaking it, they have a bigger sense of being part of the community. That’s the goal, says Nokes. “The more we start to feel we aren’t just a part of the community but also important to this community, the more impact we can have.”