LAWRENCE: Veteran volunteer walks her talk

For Mary Beth Drew, volunteering isn’t just a passion — it’s a calling.

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   For Mary Beth Drew, volunteering isn’t just a passion — it’s a calling.
   Ms. Drew, who lives in Millstone Township, has been a volunteer with HomeFront for nearly 10 years. The nonprofit organization, based in Lawrence Township, helps the homeless and the working poor.
   Ms. Drew learned of HomeFront through the Allentown Presbyterian Church, which is one of its supporters. She became active in the Allentown Presbyterian Church, after she moved to Millstone Township in 2001 with her husband and children. She volunteers and helps out with many of the church’s ministries.
   ”My faith has been my starting point. I really feel called to volunteer — not just to help, but to walk my talk. It’s a high calling — not just to give a selfish handout and expect a thank-you back. We are all part of the community,” she said.
   Ms. Drew’s first contact with HomeFront came through its back-to-school backpack drive, in which donors buy school supplies to fill backpacks, which in turn are given to HomeFront clients’ children so they will look forward to going back to school.
   ”I wanted to do more than give a child a gift. I wanted to learn more. I went to HomeFront for a tour. I was certainly surprised and amazed (at the services HomeFront offers). I was hooked, and I never looked back,” she said.
   ”HomeFront is much more than a charity. They care about the families and they want to get them back on their feet. I think (HomeFront) is invested so deeply. They listen to (the clients’) situations. Each story is unique. They spend time with the client and get to the root of the problem,” she said.
   Ms. Drew describes herself as an “ad hoc” volunteer at HomeFront who will do whatever needs to be done and fill in wherever she is needed. She has helped single mothers and their families at HomeFront’s Family Preservation Center, and served on the committee that oversees the annual 5K run fundraiser.
   It is precisely volunteers, such as Ms. Drew, upon whom HomeFront depends, said Connie Mercer, executive director of HomeFront.
   ”Volunteers are at the heart of all that we do. Last year, more than 1,200 volunteers provided over 46,000 hours of services. When you think about the volunteer hours, you easily see how they impact our organization — our clients. We could not do what we do without volunteers,” Ms. Mercer said.
   Meanwhile, at Christmas, Ms. Drew helps to coordinate the Allentown Presbyterian Church’s Advent Village, which is an alternative shopping experience. The six missions that the church supports — including HomeFront — can set up a room, where church members and the public can learn about the missions and “shop,” she said.
   ”Children and adults can check things off a list. For the HomeFront mission, you can donate $10 for a warm pair of socks, and the person you did it in honor of gets a card that says you made a gift. You can sponsor summer camp at HomeFront for a child, or for a gift of $1,000, it will get a room at the Family Preservation Center,” she said.
   The homeless families that enter the Family Preservation Center have nothing, Ms. Drew said. They are in crisis. The Family Preservation Center buys items — linens, for example — to outfit the room for them. When they make the transition into the next phase of their lives, they can take those items with them.
   The Family Preservation Center provides temporary emergency housing. HomeFront’s case managers, family care workers and other staffers help clients set attainable goals so they can get back on their feet — whether it is finishing school, getting a job or finding and keeping housing.
   ”About 99 percent of clients go into another HomeFront program — maybe a low-cost apartment within the HomeFront system. They can use the Family Preservation Center items to start building their own home. It provides a sense of security and a sense of self-esteem,” she said.
   Curious and wanting to know more about HomeFront and its clients, Ms. Drew volunteered to spend an afternoon making calls to clients to screen them. She readily admits that she does not have a background in social work, and that it was a “trial by fire.”
   It was a struggle, but it was also rewarding to see into their lives, she said. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen to them, she added.
   ”I am committed to volunteering,” Ms. Drew said. “My church is very important to me. I am a stay-at-home mom, and I am blessed to be able to give my time more freely. My parents raised me to give back, and I want to set an example for my own children. You can’t talk about it without doing it.”