Rotary Reflections on The Gathering Place

My reflection on volunteering at The Gathering Place, and how I got to this service project. Presented to Rotary #14 July 15, 2014.

My journey involves two Midwest cities, two calls for action and two established viable programs addressing poverty.
I lived in Wichita, KS prior to moving to Lincoln. In Wichita my family attended a downtown parish in a neighborhood similar to the area south of the Capitol. The Episcopal Bishop of Kansas in 1975 challenged each parish to establish a sustainable project that provided a solution to poverty in our church's neighborhood. Thirty-eight years ago, St. John's Church after much planning incorporated and launched Episcopal Social Services. Three programs were opened and continue to this day, a soup kitchen, a day program for persons with mental illness that included a job development and placement service and third a representative payee service. Church volunteers operate these programs, all five of the Episcopal Churches support the project, Episcopal Social Services now has been adopted by the Kansas Episcopal Diocese. My involvement was in helping plan, as a volunteer and a board member.

I moved to Lincoln in early 1989 and affiliated with St. Mark's Episcopal Church on the Campus, 13 and R Streets and soon found myself volunteering the second Tuesday evening each month at The Gathering Place and later served on their board and continue to serve in that capacity. In 1982, six volunteers in Lincoln established The Gathering Place. Three of the six founders have Rotary #14 connections, Ruth Thone, Charlie Thone's wife, Don Tilley, Michelle Tilley's father and Naomi Hull, our Nebraskan of the Year Ron Hull's wife. Naomi Hull recently died and if you would like to honor Naomi (Nonie) in some way, a fund has been established at The Gathering Place, if you would like to make a donation in her memory, your gift can be sent to The Gathering Place, mention that you are a Rotarian if you do so. The other founders are Joyce Sturdy and Dick and Linda Peterson (Stevens). This core group with others planned and launched the near south project at 1448 E Street.

I joined Rotary #14 in 1994 at Rod Anderson's invitation and by 1996 two events framed the volunteer opportunity for Rotarians at The Gathering Place. The Gathering Place at this time was needing more and consistent volunteers to serve the homeless and hungry. And at the same time the Rotary International President asked each Rotary Club to address poverty in our community. A proposal was sent to the Rotary #14 Board to select The Gathering Place to be our club poverty project response. The proposal was turned down, we were asking for volunteers, the board heard - funding need. The second request opportunity was turned down as the Board felt that volunteering at The Gathering Place was not safe, (This occurred at a time when more and more women were joining Rotary #14). The third request presentation to the Rotary Board was very concise, no funds, only volunteers two or three evenings each month and it was approved. The initial scheduler for our Rotary volunteers was Pam Manske and she joined the Gathering Place Board. Other Rotarians serving on the Gathering Place Board include Roger Moody and Vi See in addition to Pam Manske and myself. I have been doing the scheduling duties for several years. With the response of our club and 6 dozen new volunteers, Michael Ryan, Director of the Gathering Place reports that there are no opening for volunteers until the year 2016!

Thank you Rotarians for your freely given volunteer hours to feed the guests at The Gathering Place. Through the Rotary/Gathering Place relationship, in addition to volunteers Rotary #14 has purchased tables and chairs, a new roof for the facility, kitchen and food handling equipment, assisted with remodeling and painting efforts, along with lighting and fence aid. Your volunteer hours and club funds have made a huge difference in sustaining this community project.

My personal journey to do something to address poverty where ever I live continues. As Lincoln grows, Community Action who owns and operates The Gathering Place finds challenges in helping the feeding of individuals and families with children living in poverty in our city. Between 2000 and 2012 our community has experienced a 71% increase in the number of people living in poverty. According to "Vital Signs" recently published report, Lincoln's poverty rate is now higher than the national average. In 2000 our city had no neighborhoods in extreme poverty, today Lincoln has six neighborhoods in extreme poverty.

We as Rotarians share common values - service above self - community service and in our volunteer effort with The Gathering Place we share a tenet with every major world religion - Feed the Hungry.

Thank you
Dean Settle, Chair
Rotary #14 Gathering Place Committee