Bonding with the Homeless Community

joel-olson

The La Crosse Community Warming Center is now open for the season! Without volunteers like Joel, we would never be able to keep our doors open to serve hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness each season. Help us thank Joel by reading his story and consider signing up to volunteer at the La Crosse Warming Center this season!

Joel has been volunteering at the La Crosse Warming Center for 4 years. As a chaplain at the American Legion Post, Joel has watched solid men and women go from homes to homeless, and became interested in helping homeless veterans. Joel said that he was lucky enough to find the Warming Center.

Joel is a veteran himself and experiences some health challenges that make the early-morning shift from 2:00 am to 8:30 am ideal for him. Joel said, “It’s a win-win for me. I get to be productive, help people, make sure they get a warm breakfast and warm clothes, and my family (the Warming Center) gives back to me a sense of purpose.”

Joel said that he loves working the early morning shift because as all of the guests at the Warming Center get up to face a brand new day, he gets to encourage a sense of hope and promise for the day to come. The seemingly small gesture of providing a warm hat and a greeting, “Have a good day, stay safe,” that so many of us take for granted, Joel feels lets our guests know they are cared for and have value as human beings.

As a volunteer, Joel said the greatest thing he’s gained is a deep, complex empathy for the situations that drive everyday people from their homes into the streets. He has gained the skill of being able to truly listen to someone without being judgmental. Part of that, Joel said, is the atmosphere of equality at the Warming Center. He shared, “I can’t tell you how many times a season I will come to the door and knock to be let in so as to start my shift only to be told that we’re full…The advice I would give new volunteers is never to judge anyone. Essentially you can never tell who needs shelter or why they need shelter, only that they need shelter.”

Joel shared that his mission is driven by knowing. A long time ago the son of God carried the things he owned and relied on the goodness of the people he met every day for food, shelter, and companionship. No matter your mission or story, Joel encourages anyone who has a sense of service to others to volunteer at the Warming Center.

We know we have so much to give to those around us, but there is also so much to gain as a volunteer. After sharing a heartwarming story of laughing and joking with the guests, Joel said, “That is a memory I shall treasure for the rest of my life.”