Bill: When I was 5 years old, we moved from a tiny house in Chicago to the country northwest of Chicago into a summer home. We started to upgrade and rehab the house into a four-season house.
My Dad, when he was 11, got spinal meningitis and it went to his hips instead of his brain. It left him with fused hips for the rest of his life and his one leg was shorter than the other, so he had to walk with a waddle. He had to use his knees as the hips. He would not let this slow him down or stop him from learning how to repair and upgrade the house. I learned first-hand what “Inspire by Example” means. I said to myself if he can do it, then I have no excuses not to learn and do things. I became my Dad’s little helper and learned to do a lot.
NPC: Describe the organization you volunteer for and the work they do.
Bill: Serenity Inns is a program for 12 men going through drug and alcohol rehab. It's a 7-month program and it works at getting to the root cause or causes of the addiction. It is modeled after a program in Washington DC called Samaritan Inns.
Serenity Inns was started in 2004 by 7 inner city Lutheran pastors and relies entirely on donations and grants. It does not receive any federal government money. One of the best parts of the program is where a group, church, or individual brings a hot dinner cooked at home and sits down and eats with the 12 men. There is a question for the residents and one for the guest. You get to hear the men’s stories related to the question and how the program is making them aware of things. You also learn things about yourself when you answer your question.
NPC: What is your role or title with the organization, how long have you been a volunteer there and what are your responsibilities?
Bill: I have been the volunteer handy man for Serenity Inns since 2010, when I was still employed. I am now retired and usually put in 4 to 6 days a month on the repairs and upgrade of the rooming house on 29th and Brown. It can be more when bigger projects develop.
In July of last year, Serenity Inns bought a 9-unit apartment building to begin the next stage of the program. After graduating from Serenity Inns' program or coming from other programs, the men can move into an Alumni House unit for an additional 18 months.
I also took up the challenge to be on the Alumni House committee and be the volunteer handy man to perform many of the physical upgrades, using other volunteers to help. We are replacing the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, removing carpet and vinyl flooring for the carpet installer, repairing walls and other items. We then scrape, prime and paint the walls, ceilings, and trim. Currently, I am putting in over 40 hours a week getting the Alumni House ready for residents.
Bill: I discovered I was able to inspire some of the men at the house by all the time I spend in repairing the Serenity Inns boarding house and the Alumni House. Once there was a resident who was a little on the cocky side and thought I got paid for all the work I did. When I told him I did not get paid and I do it to help people with addiction issues, the director of the program said he changed his attitude after that.
NPC: How is volunteering the same or different to you from paid work?
Bill: Now that I'm retired, I have no more constant pressure, constant deadlines and responsibility to keep aircraft safe to fly. I have the tools, talent, time and desire to help people, and I do that by keeping the Inn in good shape and updating the units at the Alumni House. I can work at the pace I like and feel good by helping in this way. It puts some responsibility and structure into your day, just like my previous job did. You also interact with people, such as the residents.
NPC: Name something new you have learned as a volunteer for your organization.
Bill: In volunteering when you finally feel the joy in truly giving, in helping others less fortunate. You finally realize that “you have to give to receive”.
NPC: Has volunteering changed your point of view or the way you view your community and its people?
Bill: Yes, I get to meet other people of different races, religions, and education levels who want to help make a difference in the community and volunteer their time, talent and money. It’s a side we do not see from the media presenting the latest bad news or the small world we can get stuck in.
NPC: What are the benefits of volunteering? Has it helped you in any way?
Bill: Helping your fellow man or women to see that there are people who care about them.
NPC: Name something you are proud to have accomplished as a volunteer.
Bill: I am proud to be able to use my tools, talent, and time to help people who need a helping hand in getting their lives back in order. Serenity Inns is not just a handout but a program that teaches the residents new ways to look at themselves and help them change their attitudes about themselves and others. There is a famous saying: If a person is hungry and you give him a fish, then you feed him for a day, but if you teach a person to fish, then he can learn to feed himself.
The first Serenity Inns graduate to move into the Alumni House said that when he enters his unit, he feels safe from all the daily temptations and can relax a bit. This is the goal we set out to give them and we accomplished it.
NPC: Would you recommend volunteering to someone else? If so, why.
Bill: Yes. Volunteering gives you a chance to help your fellow man in achieving his or her dreams - even if it is just staying sober for another day. It is a way to give back to society.