CAROLYN STRANSKY, Staff Writer
As Beloit students, we are constantly hearing about the community around us. Where we can go for Sunday dinner, the best places to get a haircut and even how to tackle the drive-thru bar. But we often neglect to realize the severity of the community situations just outside of our campus. The Hands of Faith program is here to bridge that gap.
Based out of St. Thomas Catholic Church, the Hands of Faith program extends from the International Hospitality Network (IHN), a national organization designed to give local community members who do not have a place to stay, a temporary home. The Hands of Faith program in Beloit rotates through 13 different congregations; having up to 16 “guests” stay at each congregation for a week.
“We call them ‘guests’ because that is what they are. They’re our guests for the week that they are here,” said Dennis Conerton, Hands of Faith coordinator for St. Thomas Parish. “We aren’t here to judge, we don’t try to fix anything, we don’t ask questions. We give them a place to stay, and let the rest come up naturally, if at all.”
These views and relationships between “guests” and “hosts” promotes Hands of Faith’s primary mission to change the stereotypes of homelessness. At the beginning of the IHN guide for volunteer hosts, it states, “IHN volunteers have shown that by working together in a Network, religious congregations can effectively help homeless families to achieve independence”
Volunteers can be anyone, from community members to college students. Professor Shawn Gillen’s wife and children volunteer, as do Beloit students Nico Salas’12 and Brooke Kahl’15.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity,” said Kahl. “The fact that I was able to make someone’s day that much easier made me feel like I was using my time in a much more worthy manner than what I typically do as an average college student.”
Although many volunteer as an expression of faith, discussing personal beliefs with a guest is considered inappropriate. This also allows for those who are not personally religious to still be involved. “I initially got involved because part of my Christian faith is about service, so I thought that it is really important,” said Salas. “Either way though, it’s super rewarding and the people are real people. There’s no pity. They are normal people who have a lot to say and a lot to offer.”
Volunteer jobs range from spending an hour working dinner preparations to spending the evening as an overnight host. For more information on the program or how you can get involved, email Dennis Conerton (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit http://handsoffaith.net.