SERVICE SPOTLIGHT: Dedicated Volunteer Kristen Shares How Deeply Doing Service Changes Us
May 2, 2016
1. How long have you been with Epiphany Center, and how did you choose to volunteer your time on behalf of the women and children of Epiphany Center?
February marked my third year of volunteering at Epiphany Center. When I was in my twenties, I worked with children at Florence Crittenton, which was a group home for teenage mothers and their infants and toddlers at the time. I loved the work and felt it was extremely important. During the first few years of life, the brain is literally forming, and the type of environment a baby is in at that crucial time can certainly affect the entirety of their lives. A few years ago, when my own daughter was in middle school, I began looking for a volunteer opportunity involving babies, and happened to be introduced to Sister Fran. Once she told me about the center and its purpose, I knew it was a place I wanted to put my time and energy into.
2. What is your role at the Parent Child Center?
I am here to help where I’m most needed. Sometimes that means rocking a baby or giving them a bottle. I sing, speak to, listen to, read to, cuddle, laugh with, and play with both babies and older toddlers. I delight in the countless small interactions throughout my hours here. My role as a volunteer is to support the children to thrive and also to help the hardworking staff in any way I can. That can mean sweeping the floor or doing dishes, or maybe putting tiny dabs of toothpaste on eight small toothbrushes after breakfast. Doing those tasks frees the teachers up a bit to have more time with the children
3. What is the biggest reward you get from volunteering your time here?
It has been amazing to watch the children transform. By only seeing them one to two times per week, I am afforded a unique perspective into how very much they grow and change in short periods of time. I have had the pleasure of watching at least two groups of kids go from small babies to toddlers, with all of the attendant magic. It is such a gift to see their very first steps and hear their very first words, and then later, watch these formed little beings run and talk in full sentences. It is an honor to know that I was a very small part of that growth and that I got to be part of the warm, kind, rich environment that helped them flourish. I have also learned a lot from the staff here. It’s like a master class in child development!
4. Of the five major Vincentian Values of Respect, Compassionate Service, Simplicity, Advocacy for the Poor, and Creativity—which is your favorite to practice and why?
Although I admire and hope to practice all of these in my own life, the one that speaks to me the most is Compassionate Service. Quite simply, doing service changes us. It lets us know that we have something of value to offer, it gives us perspective, and I feel that it can sometimes bring me more joy than anyone who might be the recipient of it. We are all offered daily opportunities to practice service in both large and small ways. On the bus, or driving, or maybe in a store, sometimes something as easy as a warm smile or a heartfelt thank you can change the whole energy of a person’s day.
5. Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by courage. To me, courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear; it means to be afraid and move forward anyway. I am less impressed when people do the things that come easily or naturally to them, and I instead admire the people who are willing to be in the discomfort that many times precedes growth. Being teachable can be such a hard thing, and I’m inspired when I see it. I strive, with varying degrees of success, to practice that openness and willingness in my own life. The women who come to Epiphany Center to change their lives and the lives of their children are both courageous and inspiring to me.
6. What do you love most about volunteering here in the city of San Francisco?
Although this city has changed a lot in recent years, I still love it. I love its openness, its beauty, and how multicultural it is. Volunteering in my home city allows me to feel that I am part of my community, and that I have an investment in making it a slightly better place. I hope to model for my own daughter how important it is to put time and energy into the place we live, in whatever capacity is meaningful, and to show her that we all have something to offer, no matter how small.
7. What do you do outside of your time at Epiphany Center?
I love spending time with my family. I play tennis on a league team in Golden Gate Park, which over the years, has been a great way to meet many San Franciscans I might not have crossed paths with otherwise. I am a voracious reader and a writer.