Volunteer Spotlight on Sam Hoodless
National Volunteer Week, which is from April 15-21, is a time to celebrate and thank our volunteers for all that they do. This year’s theme is to celebrate the value of volunteering- building confidence, competence, connections and community.
We asked Sam to tell us what her “aha” moment about United Way was; this is what she said:
Volunteering has always been important to me throughout my life, but I can remember a specific defining moment that strongly influenced me and made me want to contribute to my community in whatever way I could.
When I was 19, I was taking a bus from downtown St. Catharines up to Brock University, I had my headphones on and was looking out the window, not paying attention, when a man fell on me as he was trying to sit down in the seat next to me.
He had a full leg cast and was pretty rough looking with dirty clothes and a scruffy appearance. He immediately apologized and was obviously having a hard time navigating the seat with his cast. I don’t remember how we started talking, but in a 15 minute bus ride he basically told me his life story. That he was homeless, that he had a family that he never saw anymore, that he struggled with addiction – during the bus ride he was drinking Listerine straight from the bottle. He told me he knew people, friends, that had died living on the streets. He told me he used to have a job and a perfect family and he lost it all. He was holding back tears.
I could see that the bus full of students were watching us, and the bus driver had adjusted his rearview mirror and was periodically looking back. I asked him questions about his family, and if he had somewhere to go for help – I was pretty new to the city at the time, so I had no idea of the resources available to this man – but I mostly just let him talk.
When we got to the school, everyone filed off the bus as he struggled to get out of the seat to let me out. We were the last people on the bus. I told him that I wished him well, I didn’t really know what else to say to him, and as I was getting off the bus he said, “never forget me”. It’s been 11 years since that happened and I never have. I remember him every time the weather is biting cold – especially this winter – or when I hear about layoffs in our region that struggles with such a high unemployment rate, and even just recently when I was looking for apartments and totally astounded at what the cost of living has become in Niagara.
I don’t think people realize just how easy it is to become homeless in the blink of an eye, and that’s without struggling with addiction or mental illness. I am acutely aware of how privileged I am – I have a good job, a place to live, a good support system of family and friends, but not everyone has that. I have always told myself that if I was in a position to do so, I would help out where I could because I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have those things. United Way supports organizations like Start Me Up Niagara and YWCA that fill in the service gaps in our community, and without them a lot of people wouldn’t have that safety net of support. That’s why I volunteer with United Way.
We appreciate everything that you do Sam, and we are happy to dedicate this year’s National Volunteer Week to you!