Written by Amelia Buchholz
For me, the best and most natural way to become a member of a community is to contribute something to that community. Volunteering is my way of making Asheville my home. As a young person, I first volunteered with a dear family friend who headed up a homeless outreach program at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina.
I also did some volunteer projects through my church youth group in middle and high school, mostly working at Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia. In college, I tutored children in reading / ELA at Berea Middle School in Greenville, South Carolina.
I think a lot of people have this sense of wanting to help, but are a little paralyzed by the vastness of need in the world. Our own community is a great place to start, and the effects are much more far reaching than it might seem. When you set out to make a difference locally, so many lives are impacted. We are all part of the same community, whether we need a little help, or are in a position to give that help. Coming together with fellow volunteers can create a really strong bond to build on from project to project. Our community grows stronger as a result and everyone benefits.
I admit that when I arrived at the Steadfast House for my first Junior League of Asheville Volunteer-a-Thon last spring, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had volunteered in soup kitchens and food banks before, but never inside an actual shelter. I made my way past the front entrance, where a person was stationed to ensure that anyone who entered was actually supposed to be there. I joined a group of my fellow Junior League of Asheville members in a large, bright room lined with comfortable furniture. I felt nervous and a little out of place, but ready to get to work. I was determined to make a difference that day.
My fellow volunteers and I headed downstairs to the section of the building that housed mothers and their children. There was a kitchen, a playroom, a common eating room, and dormitory-type bedrooms, some with adjacent bathrooms. I think the building used to be a nursing home and is set up in a way that makes sense for elderly patients living in single or double units. It was hard to imagine living in one of these rooms with children and all of the energy and raucous activity that comes with them – but it was a safe, warm place for them to stay when they needed help the most.
As we split into three teams, one for each of the two chosen bedrooms and one for the communal kitchen, a staff member led my group to the end of the hallway and into a smallish room, overflowing with furniture and personal belongings. We met the young woman who was living there with her infant daughter and I felt an immediate connection. My own son was just about a year-and-a- half old at the time. I was not so far removed from the days of having a small, precious child attached to me, who was totally dependent on me at all times.
I asked her some questions about what she would like for us to accomplish in her room and how she would like it organized. She was quiet and reserved and didn’t really offer much in the way of requests or suggestions. I think she was nervous, and I couldn’t blame her at all. It has to be an overwhelming experience to have a group of seemingly privileged women show up to redecorate and organize your living space.
We began by painting the chalky, pastel green room a very pretty cream color that was neutral, but warm. It wasn’t that different from the color of my own living room. The new bedding was cheerful—a green and blue pattern to give the room’s current resident a little something new and just for her. The next step was organizing the room with storage solutions and working with what was already there to create a space that was more functional for a mother and her baby. The result was a clean and tidy space that, although small and still a bit cramped, we hoped would feel a little more like a home while she was getting back on her feet.
The experience of seeing a person trying to fit her entire life into one small room was a very emotional one. It’s hard to imagine losing all of the safety and security that surrounds us in our daily lives and having to rebuild almost from scratch.
The work that Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry and the staff at the Steadfast House does is incredible, and their task herculean. I am so glad that I was able to be a small part of it on that day. It was truly the most humbling and gratifying experience. The importance of helping others through participating in the building and strengthening of community is a lesson I want to teach my own son.
The Junior League looks forward to beginning the next chapter of their relationship with the Steadfast House: The Junior League of Asheville Educational Playroom.
Amelia Buchholz Since joining the Junior League of Asheville, she has had the opportunity to volunteer with Homeward Bound, Mission’s Ladies Night Out, Eliada Corn Maze, and Children First/Communities in Schools.