The untold stories of Volunteers of America Michigan

Our founders, Maud and Ballington Booth


You know our core mission: Sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, connecting the hurting to medical and dental care. Housing the most vulnerable. Finding jobs for homeless veterans. The list goes on. We are in 26 counties in Michigan and hold true to our founders’ 121-year-old pledge, “We will go wherever we are needed, and do whatever comes to hand.”

We believe strongly in keeping you informed about the work YOU make possible. You can see a summary of our programs here. Or you can download a list here –­­­­ although we are running out of room on two pages. You can also view our annual report here.

And yet there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes, work that is only possible through the dedication of staff, the selfless contributions of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

These are not official “programs,” so much as acts of mercy. We don’t have government contracts for this work. We do it because we cannot imagine NOT doing it. (There's a poem about this spirit of service here.)

As our 121st year draws to a close, we thought you might enjoy hearing about some of this work behind the scenes. As a member of the Volunteers of America Michigan family, you play a part in these stories.

THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS. PART 1: We host a party for clients and families every year, with food, music, cookies and of course, gifts. (Thanks to community partners like Grandma’s Comfort and Homeless Angels, we’re able to hand out brand-new toys to the kids.) Picture a 5-year-old homeless child, unaccustomed to owning anything “new,” being handed a new Lego toy. That will melt your heart.

THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS, PART 2: Christmas Day is our single biggest volunteer day, when close to 200 people give up part of their holiday to cook, package and deliver meals to seniors and shut-ins. This was a record year, about 750 meals, with bitter cold and snow, but the volunteers delivered once again in a tradition that goes back at least 35 years.

MOVING DAYS: Homeless person gets housing – awesome! But what happens next, with no furniture or even a bed to sleep on? Enter our kitchen supervisor and our 13-year-old, 229,000-mile Chevy box truck. While the truck usually is occupied picking up food for our Community Kitchen, it’s also on the road several days a month helping folks set up house with donated furnishings.

BLANKETS, MITTENS, GLOVES AND SOCKS: There is no way to adequately describe our gratitude for the church groups, offices and individuals who think of our homeless brothers and sisters suffering in the cold. When winter cold strikes, our hearts are warmed whenever a van pulls up with more donations.

A REFUGE FOR ALL: When the weather turns dangerous, we open up space to bring in everyone we can from the cold. Volunteers sign up and we call in extra staff to spend the long, lonely hours overnight making sure the overflow space is monitored.

RESPECTING ELDERS: Volunteers organize arts and crafts and play board games with residents at our senior living communities around the state. These gestures of love and respect mean more to the residents than you can imagine.

PRAYER CHAINS AND HOSPITAL VISITS: When we hear of clients struggling with health or other issues, our ministerial staff keeps informed, adding them to prayer lists, visiting them in the hospital, making sure they know we care for them.

NEVER FORGETTING: We organize memorial services for clients and staff who have passed away. These events are not intended to be mournful, but rather celebrations of lives that will not be forgotten.

MAKING SURE EVERYONE COUNTS: We lead an army of volunteers every winter for the Lansing community’s annual Point In Time count, a federally required census of the homeless. Volunteers work all night to find people staying outside with the goal of bringing them back to our 24-hour operation.

STARTING SCHOOL RIGHT: We collect and distribute donated backpacks and school supplies every summer so homeless and impoverished children can start the school year properly equipped. Volunteers across the state hold backpack drives; some of our most enthusiastic volunteers are people who were supported by the program in the past. We have no special funding for the work pulling this together, beyond what donors provide along with the donated supplies that make it possible.

Over the course of 121 years, Volunteers of America Michigan has developed a highly sophisticated, best-practice, accredited and professional system of service – but this work is personal to us, too. These are all labors of love. When those we serve succeed, we celebrate alongside them. When they suffer, we weep with them, too.

We know you do, too.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and fulfilling 2018.