Here at Chalmers Community Services Centre (CCSC), we work really hard to ensure both our locations are welcoming and safe places for all. We prioritize a dignified approach and our volunteers and staff are tasked with treating everyone who walks through our doors with respect. In practice, though, respectfully welcoming every single person can be a challenge. Sometimes our guests are coming in feeling anxious or scared to have to use our services. Sometimes guests have had an argument with another guest in line, while waiting for us to unlock the doors. Frequently, our guests are going through a stressful period in their lives and bring that stress into the centre. We see many guests who are not well-supported and are desperate to connect with someone for help.
We really never know what to expect, is the thing. So, when our volunteer greeters open the doors, they are kind of opening their ears and hearts at the same time, while bracing themselves for any possibility, really. Sometimes it’s twenty, thirty, forty people coming through at one time, so they are just trying to control the chaos. You might hear our greeters kind of shout welcoming like this: “Welcome everyone! Take a number! Whoops, sorry about that! Can you please wait your turn? Is this your baby who’s walking through, here? Did you need help carrying your bags? Yes, you’re quite right, it is a little crowded. Loud? Did you say it was loud? Perhaps you’d like a cup of coffee? Oh, did you have a complaint that you wanted me to listen to right now? Yep, I see that you are feeling angry right now. We can deal with all that in a sec, no problem. Number 547, it’s your turn!”
Being a greeter is complicated and takes a particular tolerance and openness to receiving a lot of emotion and noise at once. Gustavo Betini and Kelli Arppe are our Wednesday night greeters at 41 Macdonell Street. They’re a lovely team together, becoming both traffic cops and sensitive community workers at the same time. Their sense of humour, their kindness and their willingness to helping folks where they’re at all helps to diffuse the chaos that characterizes our Wednesday night pantries. On Friday morning, it’s a different crowd and just trying to manage many people sharing a small space is much needed. Peter Gill and Earlla Vickers are our brave and extremely competent greeters from 10 am to noon. You can hear Earlla and Peter chatting, engaging and joking with our guests as they wait, while simultaneously and perhaps miraculously moving the line along. At our West location, many of our guests are new Canadians who are just beginning to learn English. Even through the language barrier, Debbie Van Der Kraak, our West volunteer at the portable door, is able to keep order. She does whatever it takes to communicate, using hand and body gestures, if necessary, to let them know what they need to know to get through the line(you should ask about the intense physicality it took her to explain feminine hygiene products to one of our guests, for instance…).
These volunteers are some of the first faces of CCSC that our guests are encountering. So, Gustavo, Kelli, Peter, Earlla and Debbie are setting the stage for as positive an experience as possible. Thank you, greeters. You are the greeter-est.