Staying for the people: Junior’s volunteer story

When it comes to volunteering, you may not always know what you’re getting yourself into. Junior definitely didn’t!

Junior Gideon, father of three, has been volunteering at StreetWise since the beginning of 2023. He had hesitations coming into StreetWise, unsure what to expect of the experience and the people he’d meet there. But he was pleasantly surprised each time.

“I had to do some community service, and I was told to come here. I was kind of skeptical, because I never had to do community service before,” he said, “but they welcomed me here with open arms.

“Bonnie [the volunteer coordinator] was the first person I met; she’s a cool person. I also love Charlene; I see her every time I come. Danny is cool. Ed – you’ve just always got to see what he’s going to say!

“Ann is also one of my favorite people, and I come on Wednesdays or Thursdays specifically to bother Ann,” he laughed. “Whenever she says something like ‘We need to get to sweeping,’ ‘we’ is just me – that’s why I call her ‘Mrs. We’. Then Linda is the one I bother on Mondays. I call her ‘Ms. Supervisor’, because she’s always telling us what to do. 

“I look at them as adoptive mothers to me. I just love it, and I love helping them.” 

The friendships Junior has built, though unexpected, are what keep him coming back to volunteer at StreetWise.

“Even though I’m done with my community service, I still keep coming because of them. Unless somebody asks me to do something else, I work in the warehouse, usually packing the meat and things like that. But I just go by and ask if somebody needs some help if I’m not doing anything.

“The people make it what it is.”

When he’s not at StreetWise, Junior is doing IT work during the week, warehouse work on the weekends and pursuing a career in computer science. He also has two daughters (21 and 9) and a son (12). 

At StreetWise, Junior has people looking out for him. Like when there’s a sweet treat left over from food donations, people know who to save it for. 

“My son loves cupcakes, so on Wednesdays there are two people who will hold cupcakes for me,” he said. “I love that they think about me.”

Even in the short time Junior has been volunteering, he’s seen examples of life change in the everyday work of StreetWise.

“I’ve seen growth, with more and more people coming. And I’ve seen the volunteers go the extra mile,” he said. “Sometimes, there are several families who need to come [for food], but they’ll all pick up in one car. So even if it’s a ‘family’ of 17, made up of two or three families, StreetWise makes time and space for an extra cart of food. In my mind, that’s dope!”

Being a part of this family of volunteers has changed his perspective on StreetWise and on himself.

“[The StreetWise volunteers] are good people. I have nothing bad to say – and that’s not normal! [When I first came] I thought, ‘I’m going to be done, and I ain’t coming back’,” he said. “But StreetWise is not what I expected.

“It’s a good place; I like it here. Everybody here just treats me well, and I treat them well, too. I could see myself being here, God willing, until I’m old!”