1st Evangelical Lutheran Church Interview (Mike Norris)
As I interviewed Mike Norris I learned that he has been a member of this church for over 40 years. Although 1st Lutheran church had been helping for the past 28 years, Mike was only faintly aware of his churches connection to the friendship house. That was, until one night about 20 years ago when he was asked to help serve food for a night. Mike said “that really changed pretty much my whole perception of what this mission was all about, just to be there and participate in it.” For the last 8 years, he has overseen preparation and volunteer coordination for 1st Lutheran's dining services at the friendship house which occurs on the last Tuesday of every month.
When do you volunteer and how long has this been going on?
- Last Tuesday of every month, 28 years
What got you involved?
“I was on the social ministry committee of our church helping with the many outreach ministries, you know, part of our credo is to serve our fellow man.” “And so I was attending our very last meeting for the term and heard that our meal process for the friendship house had fallen apart and was in complete Desiree because it was left in the hands of one or two people. sometimes they didn’t have food for people and tom would just have to make something up on the spot, and sometimes they would arrive with the food after the café staff had already begun to prepare a replacement meal. It was in dire need of an organized system with a flow, plus someone to oversee it”
“my interest in friendship House happened in that first time I served food down there and I actually saw the human need in front of me. I witnessed the appreciation and the devastation in some people, in terms of their lives, and the importance of outreach, that’s when it called my attention to it”.
What is your favorite part?
“The servers, they get the real reward as they are serving and interacting with the people because that’s where the real payoff is. It is not a matter of being do-gooders but there is such value in being aware of what the needs are of the local people. I mean just basic human needs like food, secondly you are reminded of your own blessings and realizing that there is far more reward in giving than receiving, you see it there. Once again, people that help are reminded of their own blessings of being able to help and that is the real value of this thing.”
what changes have you seen?
- When mike first started helping, 8 years into 1st Lutherans mission, he says that they were serving up to 35 people per meal out of the tiny kitchen in the men's house but has seen it grow to serve from 50 to 150 people per meal. “When we first started they had this little kitchen in the Men’s house and it was just too cramped, hardly any place to sit but then it was just 30 or 40 people at a time. “
-one of the biggest challenges is finding the resources to provide enough so that everyone can be fed. “Sometimes we run short, we never know how many are going to be there but neither do the staff, but you know, that comes with the territory. and we only serve on the last Tuesday of every month which shows you just a tiny portion of what the kitchen manager, Tom, must deal with. On our service day’s we make sure to send in extra bits, just in case that there are more people than expected.”
How do you supply and sustain this?
“my role is that of coordinator, my role is to make sure all of the people and all of the menu items are in the right place at the right time. What we do is put up a list of what we will need for a meal. Meat, salad dressing, brownies, All of this stuff. The green beans and cheese we provide, but the rest of it all comes from volunteers who sign up to bring these things.”
“There are four moving parts besides me, first are the people who contribute the menu items. it all has to be there by 2 pm on Tuesday afternoon at our church kitchen, 3 hours before serving so that I can know what is there and what’s not, and if it is not there then I have to get it there. The next moving part is gathering, preparing and heating up the food. Then, the next moving part is the person who comes to pick it up by 4 pm and transports it to the Café. then they set it up for the servers and do final preparations. And the final moving part is the servers who come in at a quarter to 5 and begin to serve.
“All of this is just for one day and We are just one cog in this machine that seems to work, but I know that they are short and could use more help”
- the main meal served is sloppy joe served with green beans, bacon and a salad.
- The friendship house “is a vital part of our community and they’ve done a really good job getting the word out to the community and there’s been a pretty good response, for heaven's sake, the kitchen was built by contributions and volunteer work. One of the guys from my crew is a surveyor and he did all the surveying for free to survey the area for the kitchen”
The beginnings of homelessness are many and as varied as the people who live through the experience. Tabatha’s story begins with a broken home. The stresses and pressures of that experience led to experimentation followed by the regular use of drugs. She called it “recreational” and it was her way to cope with tough times.
Her experimentation turned into a daily ritual….a habit. Life spiraled out of control as she lost her job, her home and her daughter moved in with grandma. It was time to make some changes and she made the courageous decision to move away from the temptations, distractions and people who filled her life. It was not easy but it led to a move to Skagit County.
When she got here she detoxed for a week and then was referred to Friendship House after a stay in the hospital. That was the beginning of her journey back to self-reliance and sobriety. At Friendship House she found structure and support. Every week there was an action plan to complete, a house meeting to attend, house chores plus work to do in the kitchen.
After working a while in the Café Tabatha decided to apply to the Hunger to Hope (H2H) job training apprenticeship program. That meant on top of everything else she now added at least 20 hours a week in the kitchen on top of her other activities.
But she didn’t stop there. She joined a faith community and became an active member of a recovery support group. Each of these activities contributed to awakening the life skills that were repressed through her dependency. Time management, team work, sense of urgency, personal responsibility and dependability began to become part of her daily routine.
She made connections in the professional community as well participating in a local cooking competition at the local farmer’s market and exploring job possibilities through the Washington Hospitality Association. Each step forward contributed to growing her self-esteem and bolstering her determination to stay clean and sober.
At the end of 12 weeks of kitchen training, her H2H completion party was a joy to behold as her mother and daughter had the opportunity to attend and celebrate her accomplishments.
At this point our typical apprentice begins the job search process but Tabatha made what we feel was a courageous decision. With a goal in mind of regaining custody of her daughter, she opted for inpatient treatment for her dependency. She chose the path less traveled toward long-term stability and sobriety.
In the months since she completed her rehabilitation and treatment, Tabatha has continued to impress all of us. She has a permanent job at a local office supply store. She is living independently in transitional housing in the local area. She has traded up from her bicycle by getting both her driver’s license back and a car. She’s on her way to a sustainable, self-sufficient life. We are all proud to know her.
Friendship House is a place where lives can change and people’s spirit can be renewed. Tabatha’s journey is a story of renewal and it’s that renewal that gives us hope for all the others who struggle with homelessness.
Patty came to know friendship House at least five years ago. Our Men’s house manager said she had been around at least as long as she has worked here and that has been just over five years.
Patty and her boyfriend John are both staying in our Shelters and doing incredibly well at moving toward self sufficiency. They have both been clean for over 100 days now and are determined to get their lives back.
They will have housing soon and when they do have a home they will be able to work toward getting their children back. They both have children from previous relationships.
Patty’s life started out very rough. She had been kicked out of her mothers house when she was 12 years old and in order to survive she had to find somewhere to live. She is now 38 years old.
The place she found was with drug dealers and that was her first introduction to drugs. She started on meth amphetamine and later added heroin.
When she came to Friendship House for the services we provide like our meal service and donation room, she could not stay in our shelter, because she was not clean and sober.
One day she and John got very sick and needed to go to the hospital. They spent several days in the hospital and when they left they decided that something needed to change, that they were done with the life of drugs and homelessness.
They came to Friendship House this time for shelter. They found a place to heal and start to put the pieces back together.
It will be just a couple of short weeks until their time in the shelter is over. It has been almost 90 days and they have come so far. We couldn’t be prouder of the progress they have made and the determination they exhibit.
Patty Is determined to not let them be on the street again and will do everything in her power to make sure she and John are safe. They don’t want to go back to the life they had and Friendship House will be there for support even after they leave us.♥
There are experiences, challenges and situations that bond us together and other experiences that, at times, draw us farther apart. When put in crisis situations, these two counterparts tend to be magnified and often, more compelling. One of the most remarkable things we witness here at Friendship House is the overwhelming presence of unification and community in the face of great struggle.
We see people who are young, people who are old, people who are heart broken, people healing, people lost, and people found. However, one thing remains true about every person we encounter: their story is truly and unmistakably unique to them.
With this diversity, we encounter an expected amount of pushback. People disagree, people argue, people don’t always cooperate. After all, we are expecting 24 strangers to live cohesively together in each home. Not everyone is going to have the capacity for understanding and kindness at all times.
Despite the often turbulent road, our residents find a community of people with shared experiences who are all on a united journey to heal. While their story is exclusive to them, their histories often parallel and many even overlap. We regularly share our weekly highs and lows with one another at house meetings. Our lows are stories of abuse, addiction, conflict, and fear that are released from the individual. While our highs are stories of triumph, resilience, and perseverance, which are celebrated as a group. Friendship House is a place where judgment is shadowed by overwhelming understanding.
For the staff, hearing the highs and lows from each resident is a highlight every week. We hear their powerful stories and we are inspired. We hear their challenges and we relate. We are all in this journey together, a shared struggle that is the human condition. We remain unified to succeed.
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