Volunteer Spotlight, April 2018
Written by: Amy Knorr
If I had to pick one word to describe Orval and Margie Foraker, it would be gracious…and real. Okay, that’s two words, but I couldn’t choose. The Forakers are both in full measure.
Due to health issues with my daughters, we had to postpone our interview twice. Both times, Orval responded with grace and concern. When we finally did get to meet, I was invited to their home. Orval took my coat and welcomed me. Margie was “coming,” he said, and when she came, she came with earnest questions about the health of my daughters. Throughout the interview, real life continued. A friend came by to help them with their cat. Margie introduced her and as she left, Margie spoke quietly with her. Her real concern was evident in the tone of voice that gently carried into the living room where I continued to listen to Orval share their heart for Family Promise. Margie brought me a newsletter she thought my daughters might be interested in. Orval spoke of his earlier work as a teacher. I had the feeling I was only scratching the surface of the Forakers’ collective experience and love for the people in this world where we are but sojourners. I left full of their care and inspired by their desire to engage fully wherever they are and in whatever ways they can.
Margie and Orval are moving, soon. They will leave their current volunteer work with Family Promise of Southern Chester County, but don’t be surprised if they pop up in another Volunteer Corner of another newsletter in the lower Delaware area they are choosing to call home.
How did you get connected with Family Promise? What drew you to volunteering? What does it look like to volunteer in your role?
O: We are a team and decided to do this right from the start together. We went to the first meeting and have not stopped since! I am the Host Coordinator, and I encourage people to recognize the call to do this. I use SignUp Genius to keep track of people and keep in touch with other coordinators (like Margie, who is the Meal Coordinator) to make sure the host week goes smoothly. I like to greet and welcome our guests during the host week. I keep on top of things during that week and coordinate with the church that is next in line just to let them know what needs the families might have.
When we started, we were allowed to go before the congregation and let them know what we needed and then pray over the situation. There has been a movement in our congregation so that people are seeing that there is a need and we can fill it. We are to feed our guests, house our guests, and most importantly love our guests. I do not recruit volunteers. I don’t want people serving who do not feel in their heart that God is not leading them to do. We use a pattern of getting the message out. About a month out, we use our Facebook page. Then we use the announcements every Sunday before the sermon. We send out a Friday email blast. Then eventually “out of the blue” out of God’s great love for us and for the people, we have enough volunteers. The beauty is that we always have our committed volunteers for whom we are immensely grateful, but each time we host, we have new people volunteering, too. I’ve only had to cover two nights since we started. That’s amazing!
We’ve used the book When Helping Hurts in a discussion context to really tease out what it feels like to not be able to take care of material needs. In the Family Promise context, need translates to us being respectful of the families. They are looking for how they can get their lives back together. Our volunteers really get this.
I’m also always looking for how to make things better. Sleeping arrangements have been a challenge for our guests at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church. Our facility is great! We have a nice set-up for our families. We have a multipurpose room where the kids can play. It’s within sight of the fellowship hall where they can sit and have a cup of coffee and still keep an eye on their kids. We just needed to work on the equipment for sleeping. I was talking with a Delaware branch of Family Promise, and they said air mattresses work well. Someone from our church donated the money for us to purchase air mattresses for our church, and now we have a system that is efficient for our team and comfortable for our guests. I think I have an urgency because we are leaving in June to move to DE. I don’t want to leave without doing all the things on my checklist that will make it easy for the next person to come in and make things nice for the families.
M: As Meal Coordinator, I feel like the overarching thing is the blessing of serving the guests we have…getting to know the families in a natural quiet way and appreciating who they are. Some of our guests get up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to get ready for work. They come back and have children they have to take care of. They work so hard! It’s important to me to create a haven of rest for them.
The technical part is being organized and prepared — having people lined up to bring a meal each night and prepare the meal for the evening. I use email to keep on top of who is doing what meal and when and making sure they know the timeframe and the number of people. I have in the past helped in the kitchen one night, but sometimes I do more. I make myself available to be a backup or on call to help in the kitchen. I also find it important to help volunteers feel comfortable in the kitchen.
Family Promise lets us know the likes and dislikes of the families in terms of food. The families make their own lunches and some like to help with the cleanup and the dishes. Each time is different based on the different personalities of the guests. I want them to feel as much at home as possible even though they are not in their own home.
Can you tell me one story that just sums up why you continue to give your time and energy to Family Promise? Why will you keep volunteering this year?
O: I feel like God has called me to this and I feel like I get more blessing out of it than I give. It’s not a chore or a job, but it’s from the heart. And the blessings that come out of this are just amazing!
One of the things I love is when the fathers go in and throw the ball or kick the ball around. A lot of times, it’s basketball. It’s fun to watch the dads play with their kids. I also love watching the families interact and help each other. I love watching the kids be happy and have a smile on their faces. The older they get, the more understanding they have of the negative things. The children are really to me, the most important in terms of how we show our love to them. I always hope that we will sow seeds of love…that these kids will remember someday how they had a need and they were treated with love by the church.
I also really value creating a space and situation that feels “normal” for our guests. On Wednesday nights at our church, our youth come and meet together. Recently, we had a family with us as guests who found themselves very unexpectedly homeless. That Wednesday night, the daughter of this family was invited to go and build a gingerbread house with the girls from our church. She was elated! She joined in with these other girls. She came back and was so proud of her house. She showed it to the older brother and mom and dad. The older brother started picking off the candy and eating it. There was this whole normal banter and correction from the parents around the incident. It was beautiful to have been able to create space for this wonderful normalcy without interfering.
M: I see sometimes with some families how reserved they are when they are here on the first night. Over the week it’s amazing to see how relationships progress. Everyone, guests and volunteers are coming together and learning more about one another as real people. When you sit around a table and have a meal together, there’s more personal time to relax and get to know one another. It’s not forced. It’s just this gradual process that happens sometimes with some families that are there. I’m so grateful we have a gym so that the kids can go into the closet and pull out some balls and play together. It’s beautiful to watch the organic connections that seem to be forged during the week.
Is there anything else you want readers to know?
O: Age doesn’t matter, either. We have young families and we have older volunteers whose children are all grown. One of our older volunteers is such a blessing to our guests. She has a great compassion for the kids. There is not one mother who would not give their baby to this woman, and she would immediately be able to calm this child. Even our youth group also serves by just keeping their get togethers open and welcoming. When they come in on Wednesday nights, they start up games in the multipurpose room. Often, the kids who are our guests want to go in and play with the youth group. It’s left up to them. This is a wonderful and respectful way for our youth to be a part of Family Promise.
For more about Family Promise, or to become involved, call 610-444-0400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether you have five minutes or five hours a month, there is something you can do to be a part of alleviating homelessness and keeping families together in Chester County.
Fun Facts about Orval and Margie:
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
O: It’s hard for me to name someone…we all have so many foibles. If I look at it in terms of impact on my life, I can say Oswald Chambers. The impact he had where he was in Africa is incredible. My dad was also incredibly influential — his ability to persevere coming from a very poor family. He was one of 11 kids. And his father left at the end of the Great Depression. He was the breadwinner at age 14. And then, I also think of my cooperating teacher when I student taught. He was one of these guys that was gruff and tough. He taught me what it requires of you as a teacher to put the children first. His way of doing it was totally different than I do it. But it was all around the idea of how I can help these kids best.
M: Elisabeth Elliot and a very dear, authentic, praying friend of mine; I’d also have to say Oswald Chambers, too. Those who are serving, hidden behind the cross…not giving attention to themselves.
What are you reading right now? What books are on your nightstand?
O: My Utmost for His Highest, Daily Light, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a biography of Oswald Chambers, the book of Romans
M: Abandoned to God; Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom
If you could spend one week anywhere on this planet, where would you go?
O: Tongue in cheek, I’ll say this — the Marvel Avengers character, Colson, “went” to Tahiti. I’ve always wanted to go to one of those raised platforms in the middle of the ocean, bright but not burning, cool ocean breezes, comfortable chair, quiet and peaceful, the ability to just pick up something to read and be so focused like I’m right inside the book getting it ALL. No hurricanes or typhoons! Just all peace and tranquility…to really just be with God in a place of prayer and devotion. Orval, Belgium (a monastery) was my first thought, but now, I am just not sure I want to be hidden away isolated.
M: Honestly, I really don’t care. It could be Timbuktu or Arizona or helping in an orphanage somewhere. Place isn’t really a factor…just aiming to abide in Christ wherever I am is what feels important to me these days.