Preparing the Nest

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NestVolunteers help make rooms at Project Home comfortable and homey for shelter guests.

By Sara Liegl, Director, Project Home

Every June, Messiah Episcopal hosts Project Home. Long before volunteers stacked tiny chairs, pushed small tables aside, and swept clean their religious education classrooms for Project Home families, they were preparing. This year, veteran shelter volunteers, Suzanne Gappa and Becky Schauer, committed to leading the program. And they didn’t just start planning right before the families arrived, they began planning last fall.

First, they gathered fellow congregation members and formed a Project Home committee. Their goal was simple. Evaluate what worked well last June, and plan for what they could do differently to better support the families that will be staying with them this year.

Suzanne Gappa found many empty nests on her morning walks, and felt this was God’s way of telling her to prepare for Project Home just as birds prepare for their young.

Suzanne Gappa found many empty nests on her morning walks, and felt this was God’s way of telling her to prepare for Project Home just as birds prepare for their young.

Suzanne felt personally and spiritually called to serve as Project Home volunteer coordinator. Each morning, she makes time to walk and pray. Throughout last summer, she kept finding empty nests.

She took notice of the nests in her path, because after years of this morning ritual, she had never seen so many. Suzanne felt this was God’s way of telling her to prepare for Project Home just as birds prepare for their young. Build the nest in a safe place – host shelter at Messiah Episcopal. Gather and meld items for a strong foundation – find eager volunteers, access their gifts, and weave them together. Stuff the nest with soft, comfortable materials – thoughtfully prepare the space for shelter guests’ comfort.

This year, Messiah Episcopal Church is as welcoming as ever – new families have been given small welcome baskets filled with comfort items, families enjoyed an activity night hosted by the Cub Scouts, a pizza party and movie night organized by the youth group, a Saturday hot breakfast and a BBQ in conjunction with Karen youth, and more.

Living Out Interfaith Action’s Vision

People of faith will relieve the effects of poverty and address its causes through the transformative work of thousands of volunteers.

Over the past fourteen years, through their work with Project Home, Messiah Episcopal Church has provided emergency shelter for 219 families, including 442 children and 274 parents. While they are a small congregation, their service is no small endeavor in our community – however, they cannot do this important work alone. Neighbor congregations, Immanuel Lutheran and Fairmount Avenue United Methodist, join forces each year to provide additional volunteers.

The majority of Project Home host congregations do not have the capacity to staff all the needed volunteer shifts during their host month. Partner congregations, who might not have space to host Project Home, but help provide needed volunteers, are vital to the success of the Project Home model. Two shifts of 2-4 volunteers are needed each day: Evening Shift (5:30 – 8pm) and Overnight Shift (8pm – 7:30am). That equates to a lot of volunteer power.

Many congregations have realized that they don’t need to physically host Project Home in order to engage families facing homelessness and garner the energy for further work on this justice issue.

Dave Hokanson, a long-time Project Home volunteer from a partner congregation says, “At Fairmount Avenue United Methodist Church, the congregation has identified addressing homelessness and helping individuals experiencing homelessness as a priority ministry. As a Project Home partner, we have a way for our members to act in a very tangible way to address this priority. Our volunteers not only offer hospitality to families, but take away from the experience a much deeper and personal sense of the challenges facing the families staying at Project Home, as well as sharing just a bit of fellowship with the families. Plus, since we are collaborating with other congregations in this effort, we get a better sense of how other faith communities are engaged, making new connections and building new relationships.”

Project Home is currently looking for new partner congregations. If you are interested in learning more, please contact:

Sara Liegl
Director, Project Home