Community Spotlight Series: ROOTS Young Adult Shelter
September 14th, 2020
Jordan Beaudry leads a volunteer activity with youth leaders visiting from Mexico during the Jóvenes en Acción youth leadership program in July 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Beaudry)
International exchange programs are designed to connect people through conversations and experiences. At the World Affairs Council, we welcome professional and youth exchanges to Seattle to engage not only in meetings and workshops but to connect through experiences that showcase what life in the United States and Seattle is truly like. Volunteer activities and service projects are an essential part of all of our programs, from professional exchanges such as the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program and USAID’s Community Connections Belarus to youth exchanges such as Jóvenes en Acción and Brazilian Youth Ambassadors. International visitors interact with community members outside of the boardroom which provides an opportunity to better understand the roots of volunteerism and its role in American culture. Visitors often describe their volunteer experience as one of the most meaningful experiences during their program. As one visitor from Belarus put it, “Our participation in the volunteer activity at the homeless shelter was a humbling yet cool experience. All of us, including those delegates who hold high-level positions in Belarus, served food to the homeless. It was a great equalizer.”
ROOTS Young Adult Shelter builds community and fosters dignity through access to essential services and a safe place to sleep for young adults experiencing homelessness. Founded in 1999, ROOTS was Seattle’s first overnight shelter designed to meet the unique needs of homeless young adults ages 18 - 25 years old. Since its inception, ROOTS has served over 8,500 guests and provided them with hot dinner, breakfast, laundry, showers, clean clothing, hygiene items, and referral services. In addition, ROOTS offers onsite case management in order to advocate for long-term solutions.
The World Affairs Council has worked with ROOTS for over a decade to coordinate volunteer activities for professionals and emerging youth leaders from around the world to assist with the Friday Feast and other needed activities at the shelter. Every Friday, volunteers from the Seattle community gather to prepare and serve a restaurant-quality meal. Jordan Beaudry, Volunteer Services Manager (pictured right), welcomes our international exchange groups and meets with them before every volunteer shift to ensure our visitors understand the context of their volunteer work. In 2019 alone, Jordan led volunteer opportunities for high school students from Mexico, Brazil, and Iraq; nonprofit management leaders from Central and South America; journalists from Belarus; and International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awardee Moumina Houssein Darar of Djibouti.
Jordan provided insight into how international visitors might benefit from engaging with Seattle in this way. “We get to discuss the intersection of differing issues in a large city with the visitors. The work we do is symbolic of the greater issues of our country and ROOTS is a way for international visitors to get a better understanding of the microcosm of issues surrounding homelessness.” Jordan’s warm and open informational discussion for an hour before the volunteer activity helps visitors better understand complex issues. By this time in the program, many visitors have begun asking these questions of other program partners in Seattle, however, it isn’t until they meet with Jordan that they have a better grasp of the breadth of the issue.
“Meeting with the World Affairs Council international visitors is one of my favorite parts of my job. I meet with four to five groups a year, and I always enjoy the conversations ahead of the volunteer activity because I get the opportunity to learn about how the international visitors think about these issues. I distinctly remember meeting with a group of social service providers from Latin America recently, and I got to hear many perspectives: a few of the folks were running homeless shelters and shared about conflict de-escalation training in shelters in their countries. Others shared insights about their unique food bank management systems.”
Journalists from Belarus volunteer at Friday Feast as a part of the USAID Community Connections program, “Media and IT as Drivers of Civic Activism” in July 2019.
The visitors’ experience volunteering not only informs them of the ways Americans give back to their communities but also provides visitors with a new outlook on volunteering in their home countries. A visitor from the United Kingdom remarked: “This experience has profoundly reshaped my perspective of working with and supporting young people who find themselves in very difficult and tragic circumstances. The experience at [ROOTS] will be reflected on and shared - I was particularly encouraged by the altruistic volunteers that worked there.” Jordan has kept in touch with a few of the visitors as well, and was even interviewed for a Belarusian newspaper about homelessness in Seattle.
Continuing to welcome international visitors as volunteers, both professionals and youth leaders, is as just as important to the ROOTS team as it is to the visitors:
“On a fundamental level, we love having volunteers since welcoming a group to clean and organize the space contributes to operations. Volunteer groups such as the World Affairs Council's are imperative for our Friday Feast program and allow international visitors to build community with guests. However, more importantly, volunteering alongside international visitors provides for a fascinating cultural exchange. I learn so much from them, and speaking with visitors from around the world helps us think about our work in a way we’ve never thought about. This exchange of ideas ultimately impacts our operations for the better. These opportunities keep ROOTS a fresh and vibrant organization, since learning how visitors approach similar issues and provide services in their home countries broadens our perspectives and helps to enrich our programs. The experience of volunteering with ROOTS is at the cross-section of working with young adults and providing people with the opportunity to build a brighter future. This is something that everyone can be a part of.”
These days ROOTS' operations have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are still working tirelessly to serve young adults experiencing homelessness. Precautions include temperature checks, sanitation of the space multiple times throughout the day, and limits to the maximum number of volunteers in the space at one time. In partnership with the Seattle Flu Study, they have been able to offer on-site COVID-19 testing 3 days a week. They have also suspended all meal production during shelter hours and have leveraged partnerships with other organizations to provide the meals. However, the Friday Feast tradition continues, just in takeout form for those not staying in the shelter. ROOTS is currently located near the University of Washington, and they will be moving into a new U-District shelter location in January.
Jordan and the ROOTS community take considerable time and effort to welcome our international visitors as volunteers and make them feel like a part of the team. A visitor from Belarus commented about their experience with ROOTS: “I have to admit that prior to our visit to the shelter, I had experienced some anxiety and apprehension. I blamed myself for being intolerant and unprepared. However, during our visit I was elated. This was a unique experience.” For some groups, this may be their first time participating in such a volunteer activity, simply because shelters are not run the same way in their home countries or their country’s approach to the civic sector differs greatly from the United States. Luckily, Jordan and the ROOTS team know how to help people help people. Thank you ROOTS for welcoming our international visitors to volunteer and in turn expanding your impact globally. We are constantly inspired by all that you do for the community!
For more information on how ROOTS is serving the community and how you might be able to get involved, please check out the links below:
New to the Community Spotlight Series? Check out our previous Community Spotlights recognizing our amazing community partners and the lasting impact of exchanges!
By Camille Adkins-Rieck, International Visitor Program, Program Officer