Sandoval: Volunteering means so much more than giving time
Quicksilver Church leaders Fred and Judy Mok and volunteers hosted a 2021 Thanksgiving dinner for Villas on the Park residents, complete with games and karaoke. Photo courtesy of PATH.

Homelessness is the issue of our time and PATH has been focused on addressing the issues from all fronts. From public policy, community engagement, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, we are working to address the systemic causes and bring more solutions to the communities we serve. And we couldn’t do this work alone.

We often hear people ask, “What can I do?” The answer is that we need every Californian to stand with us and advocate for proven effective solutions. Advocacy can take many different forms—from supporting more affordable housing and social services to attending our fundraising events, donating and volunteering.

In San Jose, we’re so fortunate to have a broad community of supporters, tech companies, partner agencies, elected officials, local government and residents that want to give back and help people make it home. I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the dedicated volunteers that give their time, energy and talents to supporting PATH’s mission to end homelessness.

Each month in our blog, we highlight volunteer activities that enrich the lives of our clients at PATH, from church barbecues, dog get-togethers and piano lessons to assembling much-needed care kits. Our volunteers know exactly how to support our neighbors-in-need across the state—and with April being National Volunteer Month, I’m proud to dedicate this column to the village of supporters we have here in Silicon Valley.

PATH San Jose operates two major sites, Evans Lane, an interim housing site for families and Villas on the Park, a permanent supportive housing community downtown. The location, services and staff are vital parts of making the sites operational, but what really transforms these sites into communities are the programs that provide additional support, healing and care for our residents. No one understands that more than our stellar volunteer, Gail Farris.

Gail is a joy when she volunteers and she regularly brings her positive energy to both Evans Lane and Villas on the Park through arts and crafts classes. Providing creative outlets, especially around the holidays, helps our residents find joy and celebratory moments. Her generosity doesn’t stop there, as she also regularly collects donation items for both sites and is currently helping a participant that moved into their own apartment find a couch, dresser and other needed furniture.

“I believe in the power of community,” she said, when asked why ending homelessness is an important cause for her to support. “Those of us who are fortunate enough to live comfortably have a responsibility to individuals in our community who are marginalized. When we support them, we uplift the entire community.”

She also stated that, “I have been volunteering with PATH for a couple of years and am continually inspired by the residents I have had the privilege to meet. I am inspired by their courage to change and when given the opportunity, their willingness to seek help to better themselves. I consistently come away feeling glad I have found such a wonderful organization to volunteer my time and resources.”

Regular volunteers like Gail and the generosity she provides help our residents feel at home at our sites. Support from other local institutions such as the San Jose Earthquakes makes them feel at home in the larger community.

Audie Amirkiai is the community relations manager for our local soccer team, and she has been kind enough to provide donated tickets and buses for transportation to local games. Our staff have been able to join these outings with our participants and enjoy the camaraderie and gusto that live sports can bring.

We know homelessness is a traumatic experience, and we work to provide as much healing as we can. For many residents of Villas at the Park, that includes spiritual healing. That’s where Fred and Judy Mok of the Quicksilver Church come in.

Judy brings her light to holiday gatherings as our celebration coordinator. She plans out every detail of events to ensure our residents have a great time. Fred leads Bible study on Mondays and also serves as the community’s chaplain. He plays a vital role in holding Celebration of Life ceremonies when residents pass away, giving them a loving and dignified memorial in the community they called home.

“I’ve learned that having a job, food and shelter are not enough to truly help someone,” said Fred, sharing some beautiful words of reflection. “PATH residents have endured a series of traumatic and adverse experiences that make it incredibly difficult to function well. I’m increasingly convinced that not only does it take a village to raise a child, but it takes a village to support an adult. We all need community.”

Every day, I see the impact our volunteers have on our residents and the impact residents have on our volunteers. All of this is possible thanks to our Community Affairs team members, Jesse Gomez and Nicole Buccalo, who facilitate these connections.

Together, we’re uplifting each other, sharing space and showing that supporting a fellow neighbor is what truly makes a community.

To learn more about PATH volunteer opportunities, please email Jesse Gomez at [email protected].

San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a regional director at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every other fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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