Editor’s Note: DC Service Corps volunteer, Nayeli Garcia describes some of the experiences and lessons she has encountered through serving at the Father McKenna Center.

It has been a few months since I’ve moved down to DC and started my time at the Father McKenna Center. With the amount of time that I have been at the center, I have truly learned and experienced so much. From learning how to do my job and getting to know the staff and the volunteers, I have seen the dedication and willingness of each individual in doing what they can to make the center the place it is today.

Nayeli and Andrew (Jesuit Volunteer Corps)

When I started at the McKenna Center, everything came to me so fast and rushed. By then, Andrew (a JVC volunteer) had been there for two weeks and was already in full swing with his position. My first week at the McKenna Center was not only my first week, but it was the last week for two full-time staff members, Stephanie and Margaret. They did everything in their power to prepare me for my new job. I was replacing Stephanie who was the closet coordinator, but besides learning how to do Stephanie’s job, they also showed me how to work the food pantry, the computer lab, the front desk, and the daily mail. As the week went by, I found it to be easy, but it was only easy since Stephanie, Margaret, and Andrew were there to get the job done.

As the week came to an end, I was sad to have spent only one week with Stephanie and Margaret. The week that I spent with them is a week I always look back to. It was a time that I appreciated their dedication in teaching me about the center and how to do the job, and it was also nice to get to know them a bit. Their time and dedication to Andrew and me made me feel grateful for their presence. As I left that Friday, I couldn’t help but wonder: what am I going to do without them?

Stepping Up to the Plate

The following week came, and I knew that I had to do what Stephanie and Margaret had taught me. When clothing day came, I spent some time freaking out and wishing that everything would go smoothly. Instead of thinking of the worst, I remember taking a deep breath and I telling myself to “just do it.” Surprisingly, everything went smoothly, and with the help of three regular volunteers, I was able to settle down and learn how clothing day worked. As I left that day, I felt confident about my position at the McKenna Center and knew that, with Andrew and with the volunteers, everything would be okay.

Nayeli helps volunteers prepare for clothing distributions.

My main priority at the Father McKenna Center is coordinating the clothing closet during the day program. It’s my job to prepare and organize the closet before clothing days and to coordinate the volunteers during clothing day. It seems simple and easy, but there is a lot of work that comes with the job. One part of my job is to organize the closet, to see what we have, and to see what we are missing. There are times that we are low in stock of a particular item, but as donations come throughout the week, it’s my job to organize the donations the McKenna Center receives as well.

For the time that I have been at the center, I have seen every kind of donation. Sometimes, my office is filled with many donations, but unfortunately, not all them are in good condition or are items we accept. In these cases, I pack the donations in boxes or bags and send them to another organization that will accept them. On clothing days, we also give out toiletry kits, and with the help of our volunteers, the kits are made prior to clothing days. I could not do my job if I did not have the help of other volunteers; they are a true blessing to the center and without them, the center will not be able to survive.

Learning from Other Volunteers

I look forward to going back to the center every day. The Father McKenna Center is not only a place that serves men who experience homelessness and families who visit the food pantry, but it is also a place where everyone is welcome. Having the opportunity to meet and work with the volunteers has shown me their true value and the dedication that they have to the center. In addition, the volunteers have shared their stories and taught me how valuable our time is.

Nayeli takes the time to listen to volunteers and make sure they are supported.

One of the best parts of working at the McKenna Center is having a relationship with Gonzaga High School students and the students from other schools who come to volunteer. Not only do they have the opportunity to give a helping hand, but I have the chance to talk with them and learn what drives them to volunteer. Some come to fulfill a class requirement, but there are some who come during their free time because they simple love it. As one senior told me “It is like completing a cycle. I started my time [in high school] at the McKenna Center and will end my senior year at the center as well.” As I reflect on this conversation, I am in awe over the fact that there are people out there who truly enjoy serving and that it has an impact on their lives as well. This student continues to come on his free period, and it’s people like him that make me enjoy my time at the McKenna Center.

As I continue in my year of service, I cannot wait to see what else the center has to offer. I am so glad that the McKenna Center chose me to be part of this amazing organization. We strive to end homelessness, and with the amazing staff that the center has, our ministry provides  a sense of hope that it can be done.


Reflection Question: In what ways are you called to serve? What motivates you to continue to seek your vocation in life?