Old First Respite Shelter Volunteers Honored

Plymouth Church of the Pilgrim, Brooklyn

Old First respite shelter co-manager Michael Bagnulo repped us at the recent appreciation dinner for our volunteers on September 29th.

The Plymouth Church of the Pilgrim, located in downtown Brooklyn, and was once the church of controversial preacher and abolitionist Beecher Ward. Each year, it shares a celebratory dinner (Michael had the delicious curry chicken!) as a chance to recognize the people who help run shelters that house and care for the homeless throughout the city. The event is also a chance for the volunteers to meet each other and share experiences and shoptalk, as well as advice on how to handle specific shelter issues.

In all, over 3,000 volunteers lent their love to the shelters over the course of three years.

The immediate benefits of the shelter for those who desperately need it: direct help, food directly on a plate, and a clean and comfortable bed, on location.

When it comes to co-managing the Old First respite shelter, Michael calls himself a “pinch hitter,” but co-manager Cynthia Ponce calls him a huge asset to the success of the Old First shelter.

“Cynthia has been one of the key members of the program and its driving force,” says Michael. “This summer, she had a really full plate: getting married, going to school, just tons of stuff going on. She just couldn’t commit and run the shelter alone. They sent out a request for volunteers – a back office sort of gig.”

Michael took Cynthia up on the call, and found himself increasingly becoming a part of the force of good – even more so than he originally planned.

“I ended up getting more involved because the tasks lent themselves to that,” he says, “Once you meet the guys, it’s a real rewarding feeling doing this as a direct action. The role somewhat expanded and I took it to the last third before the season ended. I played the role that Cynthia had originated and is the model for.”

Among many other things, Michael works with other churches and makes sure the systems and supplies are moving and operating smoothly. Easier said than done, but the bottom line is that the Old First operation is considered one of the better-run shelters in the city.

What Michael particularly likes about the working at the organizer level of the shelter is that “you can have the organizational skills and still have a direct link to the people you are helping. There is something immediate and powerful about interacting with the very people you are working for.”

Michael also enjoys the interaction with volunteers, who, in turn are also experiencing their own force of good. He says, “You always respond to a powerful experience, and people want to have that experience again and again. I was also surprised to see that the vast majority of people who volunteered were people who had done it before. They were coming back for second or third helpings. It can be a very powerful experience.”

Our Old First respite shelter program goes on to Labor Day (although it goes longer in some churches, and also runs throughout the city).

Click here to learn more or contact us if you would like to help out this Summer.

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