Cleveland Emergency Shelter volunteers seek club officiation

Cleveland Emergency Shelter volunteers seek club officiation

The front of the Cleveland Emergency Shelter.

Photo by Taylor Baker, Staff Photographer

While most of us are tucked away in bed at five o’clock in the morning, a group of Lee students are up and serving breakfast to the homeless at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter.

Members of this group hope to officiate their community service outings into a Lee club, which is set in motion to happen by next semester.

Next semester, in addition to a new beginning, the group will introduce a new coordinator: sophomore biology major Matt Smolen. Smolen said he is excited to step up to the role of coordinator because he loves developing relationships with those at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter.

“We make the food, and that’s fun but nowhere near as fun as the time we get to sit and talk to the residents. Just to hear their stories…is so amazing,” Smolen said. “They know that we’re invested in them, so they share a part of themselves with us. Then we get to take that journey with them as we visit every week. Just going and talking to these people is so cool, especially to see the light in their eyes at 6 in the morning.”

Volunteers are recruited by shift leaders, who are headed by the club coordinator, forming a hierarchy of responsibility. Shift leaders and the coordinator commit to one day a week: either Monday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Junior history major Sam McGirt is a shift leader on Mondays. He said he has enjoyed serving even though he has to wake up at 4:30 in the morning.

“It’s really cool to be able to contribute back to the community in some way,” McGirt said. “It’s a small thing of making breakfast, but knowing you can contribute in some kind of way is a good feeling.”

Every morning, two shift leaders—one female and one male—go with three recruits to cook and visit with the shelter’s residents from five until seven.

Junior mathematics and pre-engineering major Rachel Wood mans the Monday shift with McGirt. According to Wood, her service at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter facilitates her personal growth.

“I feel like, a lot of times, we don’t look at homeless people as people, but getting to interact with them and humanizing them has been a really cool experience. It’s been great to build relationships with them and getting to know different stories,” Wood said. “One of my favorite things is building a relationship with someone in the shelter and then watching them be able to get back on their feet. That’s a really cool experience.”

The club has recently received a grant for more resources to help with the shelter. This new money was something Smolen said he worked towards this past summer in order to see more success for residents of the shelter.

“The shelter does an amazing job of rehabilitating, picking up the integrity of the residents and sending them back out. They do well at finding them jobs and making sure residents aren’t developing a dependency on the shelter,” Smolen said. “Our goal with the grant is to keep what we are doing in the shelter sustainable, but also to give us opportunities to expand our efforts in improving the Emergency Shelter.”

As the club expands in resources and is potentially officiated as a Lee University club, they intend to adopt more volunteers to build the service group. McGirt said, in his time of volunteering, he has grown in his understanding of homelessness.

“I learned that [the homeless] all have a different reason for being there. It can be a challenge to see people as people and not their mistakes,” McGirt said. “Not all of them are lazy, and they’re not there because of drugs. They all have a different circumstance. I feel like I had the mindset going in of, ‘Oh, you’ve all done something terrible,’ but that’s not the case. It’s just that life happened to them differently than it did for others.”

To learn more about the project and how to volunteer, contact Matt Smolen at

Lady Flames come up short in Chattanooga

Lady Flames come up short in Chattanooga

Umbrellas and Rainy Days

Umbrellas and Rainy Days