Volunteer Perspective: Baltimore’s Challenges and Possible Solutions

April 29th, 2016

Jamie Alexander, a volunteer from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, wrote the following essay about Paul’s Place in a scholarship application; the question that prompted this beautiful reflection was “Describe challenges that Baltimore currently faces. What do you propose as possible solutions to overcome these challenges? How do you know that these strategies work?”

I think that one of Baltimore’s biggest problems is that it is a city that is divided in many ways: divided by race, divided by class, and divided by lifestyle to name a few. I think the way to tackle those divides is by engaging multiple communities together – in a positive, common way that puts them on a level playing field.

Paul’s Place, where I volunteer, engages this idea of a level playing field perfectly. The first thing that you experience as a Paul’s Place volunteer is the 10 a.m. meeting, a half an hour session of positivity and camaraderie to make sure that everyone knows there’s no difference between a college volunteer and someone who still lives on the street.

I felt comfortable from the second I first walked in – that I was not just accepted, but respected by every person I had the pleasure of coming in contact with. This is because people don’t come as volunteers or poor people, they come as people – with backgrounds and stories and lives that intersect, if only for a moment, at Paul’s Place.

This idea of valuing volunteering as a way to connect to other people makes the experience more beneficial, by separating the obligation of community service. This ideology, along with the organization’s tone of positive attitude and respect, leads many of the people who come to Paul’s Place for help, to eventually come back as volunteers. Volunteering at Paul’s Place is deliberately meant to not feel like an obligation or a chore; it is a fun way to connect with a community that you might not have been able to otherwise. Along with this idea of having fun and connecting with others you also get to feel like you are making a difference. I think that this is an amazing way of improving community and incentivizing service.

There’s only so much you can get out of volunteering when you are doing it for a resume or to fill a requirement, but when you start going because you care, because you feel valued doing the work that you do, the possibilities for change are endless.

Spaces like these need to exist in a city like Baltimore, and in spaces like these, we need to come together, as a city, and enact that change.

By Jamie Alexander, Volunteer from University of Maryland Baltimore County

We love and depend on volunteers at Paul’s Place! Volunteers enable us to serve meals and offer clothing to those in need. They mentor kids and job seekers. Positions now open include: hot lunch helpers, personal shoppers and organizing pros, after-school mentors (in the fall), GED tutors, computer lab helpers, and Farmers’ Market crew members (starting June 2). To learn more, contact Jayna Powell.