An interview with Bethesda Cares volunteer Denyse C.
This past summer Bethesda Cares had the pleasure of hosting Natalie O. as our summer intern. Natalie is a college sophomore student majoring in Psychology. Natalie conducted an interview project while she was with Bethesda Cares and several of our volunteers were participants in the interviews. Here’s some insight Natalie learned while interviewing our volunteers and learning about their roles and experiences with our mission to prevent, ease, and end homelessness at Bethesda Cares.
Denyse C. – duties at Bethesda Cares: Frontdesk Volunteer, Development gifts and writing letters.
How long have you been a volunteer at Bethesda Cares?
I’m Denyse and I’ve been volunteering for 4 years, I believe. Because I started out filling in and then I went permanent. So, we will say 4 years.
Why do you volunteer at Bethesda cares? What motivates you to help the people that come to Bethesda Cares?
I heard about all that Bethesda Cares was doing, particularly helping the homeless move off of the street. It made me think, when I retire, and this was several years before I retired, I’m going to volunteer at Bethesda Cares because I know that they are doing an amazing job. What they are doing in this community is amazing to me. The services they provide, just having meals and snacks for people who need to get off the street. What motivates me to help the people is the people here. I look forward to people coming in and my ability to welcome them and see how they are doing and I just really enjoy that, I enjoy the person to person contact. That’s really important to me. Sometimes after my volunteer shift is over, I’ll do some other things around here just because I think this is an outstanding organization.
What was your understanding of mental illness before volunteering at Bethesda Cares, and has your experience of volunteering at Bethesda Cares given you more insight on mental illness?
Well, my understanding of mental illness came very early in life. My grandfather, my father’s father, was homeless. I know he was dealing with something, some sort of mental illness and that prevented him from accepting any kind of help. My father would bring him to the house for a meal, he would stay there, and he would buy him new clothes. Next thing you know, my grandfather would disappear, and it was very difficult for my father to accept that because he was going to get his father off the street. At that point nobody really understood mental illness, or what happens to people when they are homeless. I realized my grandfather was ill, I knew there was something going on there, he didn’t want that going on. Whether it was schizophrenia, I cannot diagnose any ones’ illness but that was my first introduction. Unfortunately, my second introduction was another close family member, experiencing a lot of the same characteristics as my grandfather and that was sad. That broke my heart, it really broke my heart. This person died on the streets, and you would have never, you would have looked at her and some of her background and wonder how this could have happened. But it happens, I believe that she inherited something. In all that you bump into drugs and alcohol and that becomes a factor and that makes, if there is and there was mental illness…worse. That was up close and personal as they say. Bethesda Cares has given me a little more insight on how we can help people, we can work with people, and help them into housing. The professionals here know how to approach people and get them to come here and finally accept housing. That was a major enlightenment for me, I didn’t know you could do that.
What symptoms do you think you see our clients at Bethesda Cares?
I see depression. I’ve recognized maybe some people are bipolar, certainly alcohol is a factor, I’ve sensed drugs are a factor, I see the difference in people. I think I see some schizophrenia, some people lose touch with the world, I have a tremendous amount of empathy for that, it’s hard.
How has your overall experience at Bethesda Cares impacted your views on homelessness?
Certainly, when I realized the extent that Bethesda Cares goes to, to find people housing. I remember one young fellow who would come in. We would talk, he was really struggling, they worked with him and got him an apartment and he came in right after he got his apartment and I said to him, “How is your apartment?”. He said “It is fantastic, you know I could get up in the morning and make myself bacon and eggs” I cried, I cannot relay the emotion in his voice, but it was so heartfelt. You know just waking up in the morning and making bacon and eggs is wonderful. So, it is those things that you know people are homeless, I knew the extent that Bethesda Cares goes to find the funding and find the housing, work with Montgomery county to acquire housing. The behind the scenes to me is amazing. The people that go out on the streets and try to find homeless people and talk to them.