I’ll never forget my first intake interview at United House. It was my birthday, a year and a half ago. I had already been involved with Redwood Park Communities since the beginning, helping to gut the 80-year-old house, to insulate and paint the new apartments, and (my favourite part) to furnish and decorate each unique unit. But this was significant because it was the beginning of my role as a family support worker.
I had met some of the families that lived here, in passing. That day I had come to clean an apartment and prepare it for a new friend and her two children to move in. I was assembling a set of bunk beds when she came. Like the other women who live at United House, she was fleeing domestic abuse. She looked around the apartment with wide eyes, tense, welling up from time to time with the bewildered tears that often happen on move-in day. We sat around her new kitchen table to review the house rules, observing formalities in the most informal way possible. Gradually, by degrees, she began to relax. The crease between her eyebrows eased, her shoulders lowered, and she even smiled. But every so often she would look over her shoulder and tense back up. The smile would vanish and the crease return. Everyone has questions for us at intake interviews. Usually they’re technical things about laundry and parking and family visitors. But her question was different.
“Who works here? How many people are on staff?” We exchanged a little half smile. Rhonda answered. “No one. We have no paid staff. We’re all volunteers.” Our new friend was floored. She looked at us, frowning, and asked, “Why? Why would you do that?” Rhonda didn’t hesitate. “Because you matter.” That, right there, sums up Redwood Park Communities for me.