What brought you to Dorothy Day House? Why did you join the Board?
I used to work at the Downtown Berkeley Association, before I worked for the YMCA. That is how I got to know Robbi Montoya, who was previously an ambassador for the DBA. I have always been familiar with the Veteran’s Memorial building, which itself has always been a social service-oriented agency location. Because of various partnerships with prior organizations in this location, I had been through here a lot and had that connection. When I began working with the YMCA Residence, I saw an opportunity to not only work with Robbi again, but to also help people with their housing instability. It was a great connection, and I was eventually invited by Robbi to join the board. I had not been on the board of an organization before, and this has been an incredible opportunity to get involved and help shape the organization's future.
What drives you to be involved in Social Service work? Have you had experience personally with being homeless?
I have not experienced it myself–but I do have family members who have experienced immense adversity in their lives in the form of addiction and mental health issues. These types of problems are very difficult to navigate in a linear way. What I think makes Dorothy Day House so special is their willingness to meet people where they are at and build a process for them accordingly. So, if the typical process to get someone back on their feet is A through D, Dorothy Day House’s approach would be more like “Well, we can start with A, but they need C before B.” Service personalization is very key.
Dorothy Day House has about 25% of individuals in their leadership and staff who have previously received services from them. Do you think that factors into their flexible approach?
You know, it’s funny because one of the first reasons I was hesitant to join Dorothy Day was because I didn’t quite understand their process—I only saw the meals. What I came to learn was that meals are really a carrot to build a relationship with each person and help them navigate the social service landscape from there. That relationship building approach allows them to rebuild trust with individuals who have been homeless for a while and have maybe had poor experiences with social service organizations.
For example, I regularly refer individuals that are living outdoors to Dorothy Day House for services. Right now, in fact, we have a couple of YMCA residents working their way through the distinct steps right now. I will tell you about two of them who had a similar problem with semi-hoarding.
The first person was approached in a way that they were most comfortable with, and third-party professionals were able to come right to their room at the Y to work on possible solutions with them.
The second person was brought to Dorothy Day’s headquarters, where they felt safe, and they worked with Dorothy Day House staff on solutions for their situation.
This is a perfect example of meeting people where they are at mentally, which is something we, DDH, pride ourselves on. Being able to do something like that stems from the collaboration and lived life experiences of the staff and leadership at Dorothy Day House. People with social service degrees don’t always have the same life experiences, so their approach is inherently going to be different.
Besides working with Dorothy Day House as a partner and being a Board Member, you are also a donor. What makes you excited about giving to Dorothy Day House?
One reason I support Dorothy Day is because of the success I have seen. I have seen people take the one step out of Dorothy Day and into a stable living environment, and I have also been the person who guides people taking that one step into Dorothy Day.
Dorothy Day herself spoke of a ripple effect that comes from helping others. There really is a ripple effect that I have seen from the work Dorothy Day House does, which inspires others to get involved and help—I believe that’s where our momentum really comes from.
I know that when I donate; I am personally contributing to that ripple effect.
I would challenge anyone reading this to take one day and just walk around Berkeley and think about what you want to be done for those who are living outside in the community. If you had a family member or friend in that situation, you would feel good about them coming to Dorothy Day.
That’s why I will be supporting Dorothy Day House’s upcoming initiative to raise 10K in 10 Days—from October 18 through the 28. Your contribution can ensure that DDH can continue to meet the moment for our unhoused neighbors – and ensure no one gets left out in the cold this winter.
Will you help us reach our goal? Mark your calendars for October 18!