One week a year, when the South Oakland Shelter would come to her church, Big Beaver United Methodist, Diana Whitefoot would volunteer as a transportation director.
With husband Jerry, her job was to make sure everyone could get from one location to another. Along the way, the two began volunteering more by helping clients fill out Social Security forms and giving computer literacy classes once a week.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Whitefoot, a Troy resident. “It’s just an amazing program.”
SOS, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter, meals and case management support services for homeless families and individuals, was recently recognized as the Most Outstanding Volunteer Program by the state of Michigan.
“It’s definitely fitting for all of our volunteers,” said Kevin Roach, executive director of the Royal Oak-based group.
He said the group is honored and humbled by the distinction. They were named one of five finalists out of the 120 groups that were nominated, and were eventually singled out as the best. The distinction comes on the heels of their 25th anniversary as an organization, Roach said.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate our anniversary,” he said.
The organization has a partnership with 67 Oakland County churches and synagogues, each of which offers homeless people a warm bed to sleep in for one week out of the year. Roach said each church coordinates its own volunteer effort, and in the end, they have approximately 6,000 volunteers on an annual basis to help the program flourish.
Along with the volunteers at the individual churches, there are 30-40 regular volunteers who, like Whitefoot, help with the specific needs of the homeless population, from computer literacy and budget planning to job-hunting skills.
With the current economic troubles, Roach said they’ve seen demand for their services spike.
“We are seeing more women and children than ever before,” he said. “More than half of our clients are homeless for the first time in their lives.”
He said the response by volunteers and the community in the face of all this has been exceptional.
Through its participating churches, SOS provides shelter for 30 homeless people each week, and can serve up to 300 annually. They accept only people who are alcohol- and drug-free, and most end up with employment and/or a permanent place to stay at the end of their time with SOS, Roach said.
In addition to a great volunteer base, Whitefoot said the six full-time staff members and various part-time employees of SOS are exceptional.
“They work in a little building, and they utilize every resource they have,” she said. “They work really hard to make it happen.”