Meet Paula McKenna: a Lazarus House volunteer extraordinaire. What started as a family activity to provide home-cooked meals for our guests in the emergency shelter has quickly become a neighborhood wide monthly event.
What was your first experience volunteering with Lazarus House?
In December of 2017, my friend Jennifer Watson and I took some teens to earn volunteer hours by helping set up the Christmas Bazaar. The kids loved it, so we booked a date in January 2018 to serve breakfast at the soup kitchen and help clean and make beds at the shelter.
When we arrived at the soup kitchen, we learned that the expected breakfast donation had not arrived, and the soup kitchen was serving donuts and defrosted slushes instead of juice because that was all they had. We were saddened that this is all that was offered but understood that Lazarus House must work with what they have and that day it was not a lot.
From there we went to the shelter and were greeted by a staffer telling us that a baby had been taken out in very cold weather wrapped only in blankets and another guest went to work in a spring coat. We helped the staffer find clothes for the family and a snowsuit for the baby. The kids cleaned and made beds and put stuffed animals on pillows, but we were left with a feeling that this was not enough. I had six sets of wide eyes looking at me and asking how else we can help. This was a turning point.
How did you come up with the “Party with a Purpose” idea?
I had attended a Pampered Chef party and really felt it was the perfect model for what I wanted to do: bring good people together who wanted to help and put their energy to work. I started with a core group of friends who get together once a month for a “Party with a Purpose”. It has all the trappings of a great party for us with the purpose of creating meals for others. At the first party, we made 50 meals!
I shared my message of wanting to model a spirit of community, to be a good citizen and a good person for my son. I truly believe teens pay attention to what we do more than what we say and that it’s my job to ensure my son’s moral compass is set in the right direction by teaching him through example to give of himself. And after witnessing the teens’ heartfelt yearning to help that day at the shelter, I used my gifts to come up with this plan.
What is it about volunteering at Lazarus House that makes it a worthwhile experience for you?
On one side of it, I have the knowledge that we are helping provide food and supplies for people who need it. On the other side of it, I see the response from the teens who have gotten involved and how positively this experience has impacted them. We have kids biking to our parties even without their parents so they can participate. At every party we have someone asking how else they can help. We are affecting change in these kids and adults.
We have had people who would not have otherwise gotten involved with Lazarus House come to Parties with a Purpose and then go on a tour and learn about all the beautiful things Lazarus House does to up lift this community. And now every single one of these adults wants in.
If you were to tell someone who was considering volunteering, why they should choose to give their time to Lazarus House, what would you say?
I would tell them to do something in their comfort zone and then stretch. We are all unhappy about the direction this society is taking. So be a light… take a step. When you give of your time, talents or resources, you feel so good. You are helping others and there is such JOY in the act of volunteering.
Is there something about the Lazarus House mission that particularly appeals to you?
Everything about Lazarus House appeals to me! But their philosophy of helping people in the moment and also giving them the tools to help themselves is probably the most appealing part. The respect and dignity with which they treat all people in their care is amazing. Once you witness it first hand, you want in!
If you were to use one word to describe your experience volunteering with Lazarus House, what would it be?
The one word I would use to describe my experience is “inspiring”. I think of ideas every single day for ways to help: we are working on themed story hours at the shelter with crafts and goodies; we have inspired college students to propose starting a Summer music/theatre group and a science STEM event for kids. And that is the tip of the iceberg. We are on the verge of taking “Party with a Purpose” to our online community. We figure if we can book one party from 2% of our online contacts, that’s another forty parties a year… think of the possibilities!
There is so much need and so much that can be done. It is worth your time and energy to get involved.