Ocean City Today

Volunteers key component of org.

Diakonia relies on support from community members to keep operation running
By Josh Davis | Jul 20, 2017
Photo by: Josh Davis Some of the most prolific and active volunteers of Diakonia gather for a group photo outside of the West Ocean City nonprofit’s headquarters. Pictured, from left, are Debbie Xenakis (three years), George and Marie Hollendersky (10 years) and Jackie Disharoon (37 years).

(July 21, 2017) Diakonia has operated for decades under the slogan, “Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow,” providing emergency and transitional housing – along with a number of other services – for men, women and families on the Lower Eastern Shore.

The West Ocean City nonprofit is run by a small, paid staff, but it’s largely the more than 100 volunteers who each day work with people in need and keep the operation going.

Ocean City resident Jackie Disharoon has been with Diakonia since 1980, after reading a newspaper article stating the shelter needed nonperishable food.

“I said, ‘I understand you’re asking for nonperishable food, but don’t you feed people there every night? Would you like a couple homemade loaves of bread for tomorrow night?’” she said. “They said they would love it, so I decided I would do that on the 25th of every month to celebrate Christmas.”

Today, Disharoon bakes three dozen cookies and donates two gallons of whole milk on the 25th of each month.

She helps to make 30 Christmas stockings each year for adults at Diakonia, a program her twin sister, Jo, originated. The sisters also make 10 Christmas quilts for the children each year.

Disharoon, something of a master couponer, regularly donates school supplies and other items as well.

“We buy like $1,000 worth of school supplies on sale for $200,” she said. “I bought $95 the other day for $25 at Staples.”

She worked with Diakonia Executive Director Claudia Nagle to develop the “Hug It” program, making pillowcases so each person who leaves does so with a new pillow and two pillowcases.

“They’re supposed to hug it to them if they need comfort, and call Diakonia,” she said.

“There’s a little card that goes with it that talks about the journey, wishing them well, and our phone number is in there and I sign them and we follow up with that,” Nagle said. “Everybody gets one.”

Disharoon said she helps simply because she can.

“I was in the same boat,” she said. “I was never homeless because my family took us in, but I can remember eating oatmeal three weeks at a time … for every meal. So I just pass it on.”

Ocean Pines residents George and Marie Hollendersky have volunteered for about 10 years.

“What brought me on board was my wife,” George said. “She was a volunteer first and she believed in that saying that a happy wife is a happy life, and she wanted me to be very happy, so I volunteered.”

He started putting up shelves at the shelter and was later recruited to help with the Used to be Mine Thrift Store.

“They asked me if I was handy with a hammer and a saw and a paint brush, and I said I was,” he said. “We did all the work there, painting and installing shelves and anything else they needed. They called me a handyman at first, and then I was a fixer-up man and lately I’m the trash man.”

The thrift store started as a small, one-room operation on Sunset Avenue in West Ocean City. Now, it covers three storefronts.

“It’s just outstanding,” Hollendersky said. “It made me proud of the people that worked there and the progress that we made.”

His wife began volunteering after reading a call for help on a church bulletin board. She started by answering phones one day a week, and later helped in the thrift store, sorting new items each Tuesday, and working as a clerk on Wednesday.

She now manages volunteer scheduling for the store and trains new volunteers.

“I enjoy every minute,” she said. “We branched out from that one room to a second room of clothing, and now we have a furniture room, which is just unbelievable.”

The store is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Marie said word has gotten out that Tuesday is the sorting day for new items, which then appear in the store for the first time on Wednesday.

“The line wraps around the building on Wednesday mornings,” she said.

Ocean City resident Debbie Xenakis has volunteered for three years and counts herself as “very, very lucky they took [her] in” as a helper.

She learned about Diakonia through a personal experience.

“We had been residents of Ocean City for only three years, and during the winter someone was living in a shed on our property,” she said. “The property manager said [to the person] you may have one more night, but we can’t do this. It’s not legal. So, he gave him $20 and said stay the night, get a hot a meal, and tomorrow get on the bus and go to Diakonia.”

Xenakis said she visited Diakonia and read over the mission statement, and was immediately hooked.

“Every single person that is on campus at Diakonia lives that mission,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if someone is coming to the pantry to share food or shop for food, or if someone is coming with a check for the golf tournament – every single person, most especially the staff and the residents, live with dignity.

“It is a remarkable atmosphere. I am there as frequently as I am invited to be. It is a very, very positive piece of life,” Xenakis added.

She described her role at Diakonia as “putting cans in plastic bags and getting to hug people.” She works in the food pantry.

“I get to meet the people who do need to shop there, I get to meet the people who have things to share, I get to meet the people who are just dropping things off for donation,” Xenakis said. “Slowly and appropriately, when guests remain in residence for an extended period of time, I also get to learn from them.”

Nagle said each volunteer brings his or her own experience to Diakonia, but every helper does so out of “the generosity of their hearts and their kindness.”

“Each of them really exemplifies the mission in their outlook and outreach to people,” she said. “They are friends and they’re like family. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do in the community without each of these people and their genuine kindness and care for each other, for others, and for the community itself.”

For the clients, mostly people who are down on their luck and in need, Nagle said it’s important for volunteers to carry a unified message of hope.

“Through their actions and their consistency, the message for the people who use our programs and need something, they’re given the message that people care and people support them,” she said. “The dignity and the respect is there, and it really helps with the idea of purpose and belonging to a community versus being disconnected.

“The fact that we have dedicated people like Debbie and Jackie and George and Marie, it really gives the message that there is hope,” Nagle continued. “They’re willing to help and there’s no strings attached. They want to be able to share their time and their gifts by making the community a better place. And by doing that, by volunteering, it really invests the community in the work that we’re doing, and it invests us in the community.”

Nagle said volunteers are needed both onsite and off. They can cook a dinner for the house, help in the thrift store or food pantry, or even answer phones.

“That’s very important to us – getting people to where they need to be, and in a kind way. It’s not ‘push three-four for the food pantry,’” she said. “Whichever project it is, whatever program it is that somebody is calling about, the underlying issue is they’re in a vulnerable position.

“No one wants to say ‘I don’t have a place to live, I can’t pay my rent, I need food to feed my family,’ so it’s really important that the people that they meet and that supports them is gracious and welcoming and helps to ease them in that process,” she added. “It’s much more than just Tuesday answering phones from 9 to 11. It’s the whole idea of how that small community is supported by the people who volunteer and then make it possible for us then to support so many needs in the community.”

For more information, or to volunteer, visit www.diakoniaoc.org or call 410-213-0923.

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