For Summer and Scott Meyer, we are all in this together.
How did you both get involved with Dorothy Day House?
Scott: I like the idea of contributing to a charity close to home - where you could see what it was doing and that it was functioning.
Summer found Dorothy Day House and we just liked that the mission was so straightforward: feeding people and sheltering them –it seems like a very complex problem that we are facing but we can at least do that.
Summer: I got involved because of one of my best friends, Jerry Cambra, who was the community liaison for Christ Church at the time. Dorothy Day House used to organize breakfast at a different church. After that church burned down, the DDH Board looked all over Berkeley for other churches to host their breakfast – and Christ Church on Cedar Street was the only one who responded. My introduction to DDH came in 2014 when I accepted Jerry’s invitation to become a breakfast volunteer. One Tuesday morning per week slowly introduced me to David Stegman, the Executive Director at the time, and everybody else on the crew. I joined the board of directors in 2016 and resigned 3 years later when I moved to Colorado.
Have you always been involved in volunteering? Why does this work matter to you? Were you brought up in a certain way?
Summer: I am from the Netherlands and homelessness didn’t really ‘exist’ when I was growing up there - The Netherlands has a strong social network. When I moved to California at 30 it was a shock to see so many people living on the street. What I noticed was that people would ignore homeless people, just walk by them as if they didn’t exist, and I thought that was so dehumanizing. I struggled for a long time with the realization that ignoring the suffering of a fellow human being I met on the streets because I didn’t know what to do with the situation touched on a lack within myself and something profoundly wrong with our society. When I studied for my Masters degree in Sustainable Management in San Francisco around 2010, I finally started exploring these issues and became more familiar with the complexity of the situation.
I have volunteered all of my life, always with a focus on education and social justice. I often think of the contrast between the safety net that we have in most Northern European countries that do not exist in the United States- nonprofits need to pick that up here. So when Jerry asked me if I wanted to serve breakfast, I jumped at the opportunity to interact up close and personal with an organization that worked with the population directly instead of doing something more academic.
Scott: I don’t volunteer usually because of the time commitment. We have contributed to a number of different initiatives mainly in Pacifica (where we used to live.) It has been more one-of-a-kind things like funding a park, or a playground, those sorts of project-based initiatives. Being able to see something in operation locally with such a straightforward mission is really important for me. I’ve traveled a lot and am a frequent walker in Berkeley, so I see a lot of what goes on in the street. I am ashamed that we have people living on the street and maybe not having enough to eat in a society that is as wealthy as this. So really the impetus to do something is having this constant reminder. I grew up for many years below the poverty line – so, having personal experience with it allows me to appreciate how hard and how unfair things can be. And, I also know how difficult people can be and how difficult the problems of poverty and homelessness are to solve. This is why I come down to simple things: Food, Housing, Basic Services – everyone needs that.
What drives you to give your time? Giving Tuesday is a great way to give your time, your voice, and your funds. What is your driving force behind getting involved in volunteering and donating?
Summer: There are probably two big parts to that question for me. One is, we are all part of one connected world. I believe that individual efforts actually can resonate and make a difference in other people’s lives. The other part of it is that when our lives grew more prosperous the last couple of decades, I started feeling a stronger sense of responsibility to share some of our prosperity with our fellow humans who have, for whatever reason, been less fortunate.
Scott: Really for me, it is just wanting to address the world that I see and interact with. I will quote Edward Abbey here: “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul. “ In our wealthy society, we shouldn’t be seeing people who are homeless and suffering.
What makes Dorothy Day House special to you?
Scott: I had read a little bit about Dorothy Day – at work, there is a Dorothy Day quote in the café. It is one of those things where you don’t know about her - and then you read about her. I liked that she was unconventional and effective – very pragmatic and very determined. I think a lot of those values still show up in Dorothy Day House Berkeley today.
Summer: Having been there at the beginning at Christ Church … there is something about serving breakfast – the most important meal of the day. Everybody was welcome, breakfast was open to everyone, it was an opportunity for real connection. It was concrete, not abstract. The food created a family feeling of people just helping each other out. I just got a sense that there was something within how DDH operated - with so much “heart” - that would give them a chance to shine and really make an impact. I joined the board of directors because I wanted to help bring that out. I felt that this was an organization that was worthy of being known in the City of Berkeley and beyond. I own a small mindfulness company - we teach live online with small classes and nourish deep personal connections. I resonate with the personal touch that DDH has. We have always made the effort to really ‘see’ the people that come into our lives. There is respect and compassion in that. Spiritually, that is why I resonate so much with Dorothy Day House.
What makes you confident about contributing to Dorothy Day House?
Summer: Well, partly it came down to knowing the people who run the organization. David Stegman has retired but he was instrumental in attracting skilled and passionate people to DDH - and I was there when Robbi came on board. I trust both the heart with which DDH approaches its mission and the skill sets of the staff. Furthermore, take a look at their impact over the past 6 years – going from just serving breakfast to running all of their current programs: the expansion of their programs shows that they are doing something right. There is both heart and skill involved in how Dorothy Day House has grown – and they know how to build connections with people on all levels.
Scott: I think money is simple and always welcome – of course, time is useful if you have more time than money. The thing about Dorothy Day House is that they are in this community, you can see them working, they have a great track record and succeeded at larger and larger scale year after year with the City of Berkeley. I am quite confident that any donation will be well spent.
Giving Tuesday is on November 30th this year. Summer and Scott have generously provided a matching donation of $10,000 to help our unhoused neighbors.
It is only because of our donors that we can continue to provide safe spaces for the homeless population in Berkeley. As we approach the winter months, the homeless face an increase in adversities they face - from inclement weather, to an increase of flu cases and now the coronavirus. Over 70% of homeless individuals living in Berkeley currently do not have access to shelter. They rely on the support of people like you to help them weather the cold.
Will you consider making a contribution on November 30? Or, would you like to run a fundraiser of your own on behalf of Dorothy Day House? Just follow this link to get started.