For many Y Volunteers, connecting with a community or service-focused cause at our branches is not only a way to impact neighbors, but it’s also often a way to serve themselves, whether through self-reflection or simply just grounding oneself in a higher purpose. While people volunteer for many reasons, there is one commonality that serving others always provides to everyone involved: an open door to partnership, understanding and true human connection.
When Northwest Family YMCA member Doug Porter noticed a population in the Northwest Austin area who were in need of a way to connect with their community, he decided to act. An active member of nearby Mosaic Church, Porter rallied fellow church members and began brainstorming ways to engage the growing homeless population in the area. The idea was a simple one, and a luxury that we often take for granted—finding a clean, safe place where people experiencing homelessness can take a shower. After months of planning and relationship building, the Northwest Family Y opened its doors for the first Showers for the Homeless program. Porter shares the story of how this initiative came to light, how the Y was considered as the ideal location and why the program opens more doors than just a shower stall.
YMCA of Austin: What inspired the idea behind creating a Showers for the Homeless?
Doug Porter: In many respects, Northwest Austin has very few resources geared toward this population of people. Mosaic Church has wanted to coordinate access to showers for the people we regularly serve and minister to for a long time. But currently, the church property itself is not equipped to facilitate this sort of need. When I was considering possible resources for connection to accomplish this, the Northwest YMCA was the best and most obvious avenue to pursue.
YMCA: Tell us more about the program in general. What can guests expect?
DP: Our participants are asked to meet at Mosaic Church to then be bused to the Northwest Y. Towels, soaps, shampoos, toiletries and transportation are all provided. Guests can expect the opportunity to interact with volunteers from Mosaic who they already are familiar with as well as build trust, rapport and relationships with the Y Volunteers. They can also expect a private, hot-water shower in a safe place without feeling hurried by a line of folks waiting to use the same shower stall.
YMCA: Why did the Northwest Family Y seem like a good fit for the initiative?
DP: In addition to the proximity to our church, the Y has always been inherently community-centered and its impact has been felt for well over a century and a half now. It was just a perfect fit!
YMCA: In your opinion, what kind of impact does volunteering have in you and our community in general?
DP: Volunteering, in its many potential manifestations, is a great way for people of all types to grow, learn, be challenged together and get outside of their own experiences while getting a glimpse into the lives and realities of others.
YMCA: As both a Y Member and Volunteer, what about this program has resonated with you most?
DP: When I visit the Northwest Y, I relish the realization that the front doors I’m walking through have generously been opened to those in need by way of community members like Brenda [Herdandez, Northwest YMCA Membership Coordinator] and her team. When I explained this new program to my roommate and the lengths the Y was willing to go to in order to make it a reality, he soon joined as a Y member himself. Sherry [of Mosaic Church], a lifelong volunteer, was moved to join, too I believe. Hi Sherry!
YMCA: What would you say to Y Members and others in our community who are considering volunteering at the Y?
DP: As much as you’re able and feel drawn to, get out, get active and get involved in something! It matters less what you have and more what you do with what you have. Go where only you can. Do what only you can do. So come along, join up and pour yourself into something that with your participation has the potential to grow into something bigger, better and bolder than anyone could have first envisioned.
Showers for the Homeless is offered to members of the Northwest Austin community every last Sunday of the month at the Northwest Family YMCA from 7p.m. to 8:45p.m. Guests must meet at Mosaic Church for free transportation and entry to the Y branch facilities. If you are interested in volunteering with Showers for the Homeless Northwest Family Y, please contact Brenda Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Mosaic Church, visit their website here.