Freshman Keyanna Ortiz-Cedeño was among the Swarthmore College students whose concern for families affected by homelessness led them to take action this spring. These students volunteered at host sites of the Interfaith Hospitality Network in Swarthmore, and arranged for speakers to address and enlighten students in forums on campus. In April, Ortiz-Cedeño introduced Lorie Ackerman to an audience of earnest students at the college.
Ackerman, director of Family Promise of Delaware County, explained the purpose and practices of IHN, which continuously provides alternatives to the shelter system for 4 or 5 families at a time. These families — often temporarily homeless due to job loss or a shortage of affordable housing — are hosted by congregations in Delaware County in weekly succession.
In speaking with Swarthmore students and others, Ackerman focuses on explaining the circumstances of homeless families in our area, and recruiting IHN volunteers, who may give as little as an hour or two every few months. Volunteers interact with guests by greeting families as they arrive and playing with children, cooking and serving dinner, or staying overnight as hosts.
“Volunteers tell me they feel they are doing something to ‘pay it forward’” Ackerman said. “They get a sense of awareness they might not have had — of who really are homeless families in our community — and they see that the work they are doing and the care they are showing really does give the families a sense of hope.”
Volunteers tend to be IHN’s greatest advocates, Ackerman said, “It’s always great to have assistance, but the real bonus for us is the word of mouth. If you have a positive experience, you tell other people about it, and we get more volunteers and support.”
Individuals or groups interested in working with IHN should check the hosting calendar online at dcihn.org and call Lorie Ackerman to schedule a volunteer shift.
IHN families will be in Swarthmore for three weeks from June 19 through July 9, staying at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church with volunteers from SPC and Swarthmore United Methodist Church through July 2, then at Trinity Episcopal Church through July 9.
Choose a date or dates that might work for you, then call Lorie Ackerman at (610) 803-8580 to discuss the opportunity and arrange your shift. You may also investigate whether your congregation would consider joining the rotation of hosts.