By Leora Watson
The Civic Stadium Women’s Winter Shelter, operated by Whatcom Homeless Service Center, a department of the Opportunity Council, is looking for volunteers and student interns.
The Women’s Winter Shelter is a seasonal operation, open from Nov. 29 to Feb. 28. The city of Bellingham is hosting the shelter on its Civic Stadium property and is open seven days a week, including holidays.
The Women’s Winter Shelter is open during the winter months due to the influx of people coming in to the shelter because of the cold temperatures outside. The shelter has about 35 beds, showers and food. Check in for guests is 6:00 p.m. and check out is between 7-7:30 a.m, according to Steve Bass, an employee at the Whatcom Homeless Service Center.
“Volunteer duties can range from driving vehicles to transport[ing] guests to the Civic Field site, to serving snacks and hot beverages or scheduling showers,” Teri Bryant, a manager at the Whatcom Homeless Service Center and Human Services graduate from Western, said.
Anyone interested in volunteering or becoming a student intern must complete a background check and fill out paperwork at the Whatcom Volunteer Center. Volunteers always work alongside a paid staff member and must be at least 18 years old or older, according to Bryant.
Steve Bass, the coordinator for the Homeless Outreach Team at the Whatcom Homeless Service Center, said the student intern position was created because they were having a hard time finding people to fill part-time positions. The intern program is designed for students and offers pay for the hours worked and on call. The program also offers credits for students.
“An internship where people are able to get their credits, be paid and don’t have to work a lot of hours,”Bass said. “It seem[s] like an appealing position for a student more than anyone else.”
Bass said students enjoy volunteering and being part of the internship program.
“Overwhelmingly, though, the feedback has been positive about their experience,” Bass said. Bass also said that students always seem really excited to be there, appreciate the opportunity and have good relationships with the guests.
Cassidy Schroeder has worked with the Whatcom Homeless Service Center since October 2019, after they moved to Bellingham from Wisconsin. Schroeder is the volunteer coordinator and a lead shelter counselor and is involved in recruiting and training volunteers.
“It's a way to make meaningful connections to folks and get some real experience in the field,” Schroeder said. “In that way, it's a pretty meaningful volunteer experience, to get to see the impact you’re having right on the spot.”
The Whatcom Homeless Service Center is always looking for more volunteers and student interns.
Schroeder said qualities looked for in people who are interested in volunteering, or the student internship program, are people who are empathic, hardworking and reliable. Schroeder said that it takes people who are reliable to do volunteer work because it’s not a money-incentive field path.
Both Bass and Schroeder said there is a real sense of community at the Women’s Winter Shelter. There are good relationships and people look out for one another.
“One of the really cool things about volunteering is getting to know people and getting to listen,” Schroeder said. “That's one of the most important parts that we talk about in the volunteer training – just being able to listen and be witness to whatever someone's issues might be in the moment and offer a lending ear.”
Schroeder said it is also important to be aware of the power differences between staff and guests and having compassion and understanding for people. Bass said that he has witnessed volunteers go above and beyond in the program.
Students do not have to be in the internship program to be involved as well.
“We have people who are students at Western who are just volunteering,” Bass said.
While the Winter Women’s Shelter program closes Feb. 28, students interested in the internship program, or anyone who is interested in volunteering, can contact the Whatcom Homeless Service Center anytime.