Whenever I think of bettering my community, I think of working with those less fortunate in the area that I live in. Before leaving for Thanksgiving break, I called my mom to see if she knew of any volunteer opportunities I could engage in over the break. She got back to me and told me that her friend that volunteers at the homeless shelter could use some help. I accepted, assuming that I would be helping distribute food or something along those lines since it was Thanksgiving. Upon arriving at home, my mom told me that I would be making decorations. I figured I was now stuck making these decorations and then would have to find another opportunity that I could actually talk about for this paper, but I was completely wrong.
The decorations I made are going to be used to decorate Christmas trees, which will then be auctioned off at the homeless shelter fundraiser later in the month. I made many different origami decorations and some chains made out of paper. After making the decorations, I talked to my mom’s friend who gave me more information about the homeless shelter in Falls Church. I was very surprised by what she told me.
The Friends of Falls Church Homeless Shelter has been operating for 20 years. It was created to address the critical need for emergency housing in the community, and only operates during the winter months of November through March. Although the shelter is only open during the winter, there is counseling provided year round. The shelter also works closely with these individuals to help them find permanent affordable housing, providing case management services, and education classes and presentations that help them make wise financial, medical, and personal choices. After the individual exists the program, the shelter works with them for up to 2 years if needed. The main power struggle for this shelter is that the city only provides 20% of needed funds for operation.
To date, 80% of the shelter’s funds have been raised by the community through fundraising events. After hearing this statistic, I realized how important it was that I volunteered and made the decorations. The Christmas tree fundraiser is one of their most profitable fundraisers for the shelter. Although my part was very small, somebody had to make the decorations so that people would be willing to buy them at the auction. This made the power dynamic really interesting. The city has a lot of power, as 20% of the shelter’s money comes from the City of Falls Church, but then the other 80% is dependent on fundraising. Within this 80%, people such as the Board of Directors, which is comprised of volunteers, and other short-term volunteers, like me, have power. Then there are the individuals being served by the homeless shelter, who are at the bottom of the power chain. They are at the bottom because they are dependent on the funds from the city and fundraising to be able to have a place to stay.