This National Volunteer Month we're taking time to let others know why our great ministry volunteers do what they do and are encouraging others to join them. For more information about how to volunteer at any of the programs we support, check out the information at the bottom of the page.
I meet Nancy Amundson in the Mother’s Room at Sarah’s... an Oasis for Women. The central garden is currently covered in snow and ice but come springtime it will serve as a space where the residents can spend time outside and appreciate the sunshine. The room we’re meeting in is dedicated to all the mothers who have lived at Sarah’s, whose children are far away or soon to be reunited with them.
Sarah’s... an Oasis for Women is a home dedicated to the safety and dignity of a diverse community of women who have survived violence, abuse, torture, war, discrimination, and trauma. The residents of Sarah’s begin new and productive lives through programs that build self-esteem, self-sufficiency, confidence, determination, and community. They’re connected to social services, education opportunities, job preparedness training, and necessary medical care. The women of Sarah’s cook together in the communal kitchen, share meals in the central dining room, and most attend classes to re-start their careers and learn English. Many have left families behind to avoid persecution and violence. Sarah’s is the safe landing place that supports them in their goals and encourages them in their dreams.
Nancy was quick to respond to my email request to do an interview as a dedicated volunteer of Sarah’s... an Oasis for Women but was adamant that we would only be able to meet during the free time she had between resident meetings. Nancy mentors the residents in English and supports them in their studies; she didn’t want our time together to conflict with the commitments she has with them. It’s obvious even before we start talking that Nancy’s passion is supporting the women of Sarah’s and I’m soon to find out it has become a huge part of her life over the past six years.
I asked God when I retired to throw me somewhere that I won’t know anything about it and teach me. I really wanted somewhere different. It doesn’t get any more different than this. It’s opened me in areas that have surprised me. Without my work at Sarah’s, my life would be dull and empty.
The Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) connected Nancy to Sarah’s. IVC matches the talents of its volunteers (aged 50 years or more) with non-profit organizations in their communities and provides a supportive community rooted in spirituality and service. When Nancy first volunteered at Sarah’s she was assigned to pantry duty, cleaning and organizing shelves in the communal kitchen. She was happy to help wherever was needed but felt like she could be doing more.
While organizing the pantry, Nancy met a woman who was struggling with a school project. Nancy approached the Director of Sarah’s and asked if she could tutor instead of organizing. The answer was a resounding and emphatic yes. Nancy tutors the women and helps them learn English. Instead of memorizing the words of an assignment or article, Nancy asks the women to work to understand the text and helps them use the vocabulary they’re learning in their everyday lives. She now tutors and meets with seven residents throughout the week and helps with a variety of topics. It’s obvious Nancy loves what she does at Sarah’s.
Many of the women that stay at Sarah’s have secondary education degrees and are highly trained in their fields of study. However, their accomplishments are not always recognized by the American education system, and many have to re-take classes to earn their degrees again. They must also learn to study and become proficient in English. One of Nancy’s students is a pharmacist (studying for her American license), and another takes college-level biology; learning about each advanced topic alongside the women she tutors, and figuring out a learning method that works for them, is what Nancy found a passion for the past six years.
Tutoring residents is one of many things volunteers can do at Sarah’s. Driving the residents to their appointments and the grocery store, helping with resumes and cover letters, teaching computer skills, and being available to listen is only a short list of the ways volunteers can contribute. Nancy tells me that if there were more volunteers then residents wouldn’t have to rely on pricey services for appointments and would feel more confident going back to school if they could practice their English skills with a dedicated tutor.
Volunteering at Sarah’s has expanded how Nancy thinks about immigrants' rights, education, and social services in the United States. It has taught her how to listen more deeply and with intention. The women she tutors expand her worldview every week, and her capacity for empathy has deepened greatly. Without her work at Sarah’s, she says, her life would be dull and empty.
Are you interested in making a difference at Sarah’s... an Oasis for Women through volunteering? Visit their volunteer page at https://www.sarahsoasis.org/make-a-difference and help foster positive change in your community today. Or if you're interested in volunteering at a different ministry, visit https://www.csjministriesfoundation.org/volunteer-opportunities