The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

May 23, 2015

Filed under: inspiration,Vocation,Christianity,healing,peace,Leadership,Henri Nouwen — Karen Shafer @ 8:52 pm

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Servant? Leader? Both.

“Ministry is… a mutual experience… [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.

Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead… Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship!

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd. Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion. The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership — to use Robert Greenleaf’s* term — in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.”

 ~~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership
*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness


Those Who Risk Everything: Noble May 5, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Those Who Risk Everything:  Noble


“Give Me a Shot of Anything” April 6, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

“Give Me a Shot of Anything:  House Calls to the Homeless”

I find these video clips to be riveting.  What do you think?

Night Time House Calls!videos/vstc6=night-time-house-calls


The Film Maker!videos/vstc6=newfilmmakers

The Website!

Boston Health Care for the Homeless


The Video: Death on Skid Row March 3, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


The Video:  Death on Skid Row

I have just watched the video of a homeless, mentally ill man being shot to death by Los Angeles police.  Regardless of what the investigation about this death reveals as to cause and fault, this is one of the saddest, most terrifying pieces of film I’ve ever seen.  People, we gotta’ change some things.


Lent: I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About February 18, 2015

Filed under: Christianity,healing,inspiration,Leadership,peace — Karen Shafer @ 11:40 pm

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent: I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About

This evening I sat in the beautiful Church of the Incarnation and listened to a wise, direct, and very profound sermon by our rector, Bishop Anthony Burton, on preparing for Lent.

In speaking of the temptations that Christ experienced during his forty days in the wilderness — which we symbolically replicate through our observance and celebration of the Lenten season — Bishop Burton clarified them in a way I hadn’t previously understood: Christ, he said, was tempted to become the star of his own show — the centerpiece of his own movie.  He refused.

As I sat through the service, surrounded by the majesty of a church I’ve loved for decades, I observed how often my thoughts are centered upon myself.  Briefly, I can be fully present within the momentous mystery and magic of what is going on around me, but quickly and automatically, I am back to…  assessing myself, critiquing myself, speculating about myself…  which then turns in an equally automatic way to quick and sometimes even scornful and petty judgments of people around me.

To quote a friend who has spent decades successfully working twelve-step programs, “I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.”

Referring to the unremitting humility of Jesus and of His unwillingness to become a person of consequence and importance — or, perhaps in today’s parlance, one could say His unwillingness to become “relevant”, the bishop said, “I want that.”

So do I.


Church of the Incarnation


Bored & Brilliant January 29, 2015

Filed under: inspiration,peace,Random Post,Solutions,The Natural World — Karen Shafer @ 9:14 pm

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Bored & Brilliant


Those who know me even a little know I’m a fan of unplugging from technology — mild understate.  I’ve gone so far as to ban electronics for a week on family beach vacations…  if I felt I could get by with it.  Slightly autocratic I admit, but the results in calmer grandchildren who let their creativity shine amidst this “boredom” and wonderful conversations between adults — not to mention just gazing out at the scenery as opposed to down at the electronic device — was impressive.  Of course, this does not mean that one can’t be creative with and through technology.  Still…  Needless to say, I was interested to hear this interview on the BBC World Service.


Slight conundrum:  participating in this project of unplugging from technology requires an “App”!  (It’s only in the last couple of years that I figured out what that word even means.)  And this project comes through a website called “New Tech City.”  But even a luddite was impressed with and intrigued by this interview.  Also, yes, I am aware that, once again, I am putting this “out there” on a computer through WIFI.


On Boston Streets: A Night on the Pine Street Inn Outreach Van November 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 9:38 pm

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Boston Streets: A Night on the Pine Street Inn Outreach Van

by Karen Shafer

I had the privilege last month to ride along on the overnight Outreach Van for Pine Street Inn, the largest homeless shelter in New England.  On the van that night were a physician, Dr. James O’Connell, founder and President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and three Pine Street outreach workers.

The van goes out 365 days a year into the city of Boston to minister to those men and women who live on the street and who are either unable or unwilling to enter the shelter system on any particular night.  It carries food — soup, oatmeal, sandwiches, hot chocolate and bottled water —as well as blankets, coats, hats, gloves, underwear and socks.  The workers track each person’s progress and monitor their health conditions and concerns.  In an emergency, an individual can be transported into a shelter.  Perhaps the most important component of what the staff provides is personal contact and compassion.  And they are friends to those who often don’t have many.

The dedicated Pine Street staff, along with medical personnel from BHCHP on some nights, know by name most of the people “sleeping rough”, as well as their personal stories.  These service providers are so respectful of the privacy of each individual that if, on previous nights, the person has requested not to be awakened to receive the van’s services, they do not disturb them if they are sleeping. On this particular night, the temperature was in the forties — chilly, but not life-and-limb threatening.  All of the “regulars” — generally referred to as the “chronically homeless” — know the van staff well, and Dr. O’Connell, whom they call Jim, has in fact been friends to many of them for as long as thirty years.  It was a tremendous privilege to to follow Dr. O’Connell out onto the street as he approached each person, to have the opportunity to be introduced to them, and then to be trusted enough through the currency of his and Pine Street’s long-standing relationships with them to hear some of their stories.

There were people sleeping out who were struggling with serious head trauma, with mental illness, with chronic and acute health conditions, with addiction.  One of the people I remember most clearly and felt particularly drawn to was “Sam,” lying on a cold sidewalk, his wheelchair nearby and his girlfriend on hand to look out for him.  After many years on the street, last year he became afflicted by a permanent disability due to frostbite, but he still doesn’t want to go indoors.

On this night, he was dozing under the awning of a business with a security light shining overhead.  Dr. O’Connell first greeted him, checked on his condition, then returned to the van to secure a blanket and food.  I asked Sam if he could sleep with the brightness of the light overhead.  “Not really,” he said, “I wish I could shoot it out.”  “I’ll go back to the van and get my pea shooter and see if I can take it out for you,” I joked with him, and despite his evident discomfort, he smiled.  The radiance of his personality shone through even the bleakness of his situation.  He was so weak that, when Dr. O’Connell brought him hot soup and a sandwich, he couldn’t sit up to eat them, so the doctor leaned in close, unwrapped the sandwich, and put it in his hand.

I was surprised by the tolerant and even supportive attitude that some downtown Boston businesses have towards their homeless brothers and sisters.  At one of the van’s stops, there were freshly built cardboard shelters in which people were sleeping under the overhang in front of a mattress store.  Astonished that people were allowed by the city to sleep in this location, I was even more amazed when the Pine Street outreach workers informed me that the business owner or other nearby citizens bring fresh boxes each night which the people use to build their shelters in the business doorway. In the morning, a city recycling truck comes to pick them up.  If criminalization of the homeless is a part of street life in the city, I didn’t observe it.  This is The Boston Heart.

There are federal laws regulating the circumstances under which people can be involuntarily committed to care, and Massachusetts interprets those laws with an emphasis on personal liberty and respect for individual rights.  I count this as a very good thing, but sometimes it makes it particularly challenging for medical personnel and service providers to deliver the kind of care people “sleeping rough” need most — when that care involves being inside an institution.  Often, individuals will agree to be hospitalized long enough to deal with an acute health challenge, but will return to the street when the crisis has passed.

This is where Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program sets the standard nationally and internationally for the delivery of medical and support services to the homeless and those living in poverty.  The staff of more than three hundred physicians, dentists, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, case managers, dental hygienists, administrative staff, building maintenance, and food service workers brings health care to those who would not otherwise be able to access it — to the street, to domestic violence and emergency shelters, to hospital walk-in clinics, to temporary and permanent supportive housing units, and in their own respite care facility, Barbara McInnis House.  Their doctors are on the teaching faculty of Harvard University, Boston University and Tufts Medical Schools.  It is an extraordinary system and one that is well-coordinated with other service providers throughout the City of Boston and surrounding areas.

Monthly, a group of service providers in Boston — BHCHP medical staff, shelter directors and case workers, police, and others who interface with those living on the street — meet to assess the specific needs of around a hundred homeless individuals needing particular attention, and coordinate their plans on how to help them.  Equally impressive is the fact that at any point in time, Dr. O’Connell and his medical staff can access by email the number of their patients who are in the city’s emergency rooms or have been admitted to its hospitals.

As I rode along with the Pine Street van and observed first hand the functioning of a respectful, organized, efficient system of registering patients and delivering to them direct care on the street — seamlessly carried out in a milieu of kindness, love, generosity and respect — I was in awe.  It is a model of compassion, service and cooperation to which every city should aspire.

Boston Health Care For the Homeless Program:  To request a copy of BHCHP’s newsletter or be added to their mailing list, please contact Carrie Eldridge-Dickson at <>

Pine Street Inn:

Boston Globe:



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