A Place Where Smiles Really Count

Karen, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Tom Vetica Resource Center in Reno, Nevada, knows the importance of a smile to those she serves.
Helen, an AARP volunteer, sorts mail for the homeless clients of the Tom Vetica Resource Center in Reno.

The Tom Vetica Resource Center is like a bee hive, always humming with people coming and going. A total of 15 volunteers assist a diverse population of people who need help because they are currently without a home and have no address to apply for jobs or receive services. The Resource Center gets them registered, gives them access to a computer to search for work, provides a phone to make important calls, and operates a mail service for over 500 individuals who need an address. There are also computer training and money management classes at the Community Assistance Center campus, which includes the Family, Men’s, and Women’s Shelters, and the Center coordinates with numerous other service agencies to conduct weekly outreach sessions.

Some of the Resource Center’s volunteers are from the homeless population the Center serves. After passing a background check, these volunteers get hands-on office experience to add to their resume. They learn or update their computer skills, use the fax machine, handle email, and develop good research skills. One of the biggest information requests from the clients are for maps to get to job interviews or to visit service agencies, so these volunteers become proficient in Google Maps or conducting other Google searches.

A less tangible, but vital, contribution the volunteers make is to provide a friendly face and a helpful attitude. “I judge my volunteers by their smiles,” says Karen Willcox, Volunteer Coordinator for the Resource Center, “because the people are down and out and if they can be greeted by a smile—that helps them.” She looks for people who enjoy helping others because that will make a difference to the Center’s clients who are often faced with daunting obstacles, especially in this tough economy.

At first glance, it might appear overwhelming to volunteer at a place where so much is happening. “Initially, it may seem hard when you don’t know all the answers,” Karen explains, “but by seeking out the information from others, and with just a little repetition, it all falls into place.”

The benefits that await volunteers at the Resource Center come not just from helping others, but in getting back from those they help. Clients often consider them friends, sending a wave their way or asking how they are doing, along with a big smile.

Those smiles—they’re a universal treasure. No matter where you volunteer, you’ll find the smiles of those you help become your best reward.

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