“We’ve all heard the song, Love Makes the World Go Round,” says Alice Zaccarello, Executive Director of the Well Community, “I believe it’s the love of volunteers that makes the Well go well.” This is especially true at Thursday Night Life, where there are opportunities for volunteers to provide the meal, serve the meal, lead worship songs or bring a message.
There are all kinds of groups that help out,” says Ericka Ruiz, Program Manager. “Some are church groups; others are just friends who get together to help, and we also have an increasing number of civic clubs that take a turn.”
One such group is the Oak Cliff Chapter of the Young Men’s Service League. Members of the organization are moms and their teenage sons who volunteer together to serve their local communities during the sons’ four years of high school. The group “offers moms service opportunities and time together with her son(s) to grow their relationship and to instill in him a heart of service to last a lifetime. In addition to service, as part of its four-year comprehensive program, the Young Men’s Service League teaches leadership and life skills to develop our young men to become the capable, confident and compassionate leaders of tomorrow.” (https://ymsl.org/about-ymsl)
Coordinator of their partnership with the Well Community is Abbey Adcox, VP of Philanthropy for the Oak Cliff chapter. Recently Abbey and her son, Collin, served meals on a Thursday night. We had a chance to talk with Abbey about their group and their experiences at the Well Community.
She tells us that the Young Men’s Service League, Oak Cliff partners with 10-12 nonprofits in the area to give their teenagers the chance not only to serve, but to increase their awareness of needs and programs in the area. These nonprofit organizations are varied in their focus, such as housing insecurity, hunger, vulnerable women and children, conservation and, recently added, those living with mental health conditions.
“In their first year, we ask everyone to serve at four different philanthropies, so they get a variety of experiences. Sometimes they will find a cause they have a particular affinity for and will repeat their service with that specific group,” Abbey explains. “We consider the Well Community one of our philanthropies. Our philanthropies must be approved by our national office, and we were so pleased to get this approved.
“Everyone has a mandatory minimum of 20 hours to serve in a year. We have a calendar of opportunities for our chapter from the various nonprofits, and the Well community is on our calendar for every Thursday evening. We hope to send up to four volunteers per week.”
When asked why they chose the Well Community as one of the nonprofits they wanted to serve, Abbey replied, “I felt it is important to our young men to serve our neighbors who deal with mental illness. It helps to destigmatize mental illness. The opportunity to actually be with the [members] is really special.
“Everyone loves their times at the Well. I’ve received numerous texts or emails from moms mentioning how special their time was, how much they enjoyed the time there with their sons. My son, Collin, really enjoyed hearing some people’s stories. A couple of the members spent a good amount of time talking with us about things they were looking forward to as well as their challenges with transportation. It was good for him to hear. It expanded his view of the community and the disparities in our community and how important these services are for so many of our neighbors.”
Moms and sons often share the same kind of takeaways from their time at the Well Community. Abbey explains: “My hope is that they come away with [an] increased comfort level as they meet and interact with others who live with mental illness. This gives them the opportunity to destigmatize mental illness and really see the person they are speaking with. It helps them have a greater awareness of the barriers that exist in the community for those who have mental health difficulties. Talking with members of the Well helps our moms and sons to be more engaged and to pay attention to city funding, transportation and other related issues.
“For some of the moms, it may be a new experience for them, too. So, many of the benefits for moms are the same as for the young men. There is also the added joy of seeing your child showing respect and listening actively,” Abbey says.
Having served on Thursday nights, participants from the Young Men’s Service League are eager to expand their engagement at the Well. “We have it on our calendar to see if we can find some extra hands to help with Monday through Wednesday lunches as well.” Abbey explains. “We may be able to help during spring break and other times school is out, like during the summer. We are also encouraging moms who have a flexible work schedule or work from home to come and help during these weekdays.”
In addition to further involvement from the League, Abbey sees potential to involve her church in the various volunteer opportunities offered by the Well.
To other civic groups and to churches Abbey offers this observation: “When they arrive, they are going to be greeted so warmly by the members. The Well Community is a place where they will have a valuable experience and an opportunity to connect with these people. Those who are dealing with mental illness are so often stigmatized, and the Well Community provides them a loving community. The friendships among the members are so very evident.” Abbey adds, “It is so valuable getting to know the members and getting a bigger picture of all the different facets that play into barriers for them and their need for comprehensive support: transportation, housing, food. And by participating, volunteers get to be a small part of that.”
Serving at the Well Community is an excellent opportunity for families and can have a lifelong impact on young people. If you’d like to get involved by serving a meal or helping to lead worship, please contact us! We’d love to find an opportunity for you and your loved ones or friends to volunteer together.