St. John shelter volunteer says serving the homeless is a privilege

By | February 23, 2012

“We have to help the people who can’t help themselves, who are not like us,” said Coyle, explaining the preacher’s words. “We have to help the poor, the weak, people with addictions and substance abuse problems. … (The preacher) spoke directly to me and it was an enormous inspiration.”


Dee Coyle, a volunteer at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, stands next to a framed photo of Sacred Heart Fr. Guy Blair, former St. John pastor who was instrumental in starting the shelter in 2007. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Those words helped guide the couple into mission work in Germany and then as volunteers at the Green Bay Correctional Institution for seven years.

“When we saw the need here (at St. John) and we saw how opposed Green Bay was to having a shelter, it really resonated with us,” she said. “It drew us here.”

St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter is a temporary emergency shelter for adult men and women who have no other place to go. Housed in the former St. John Catholic School, it is open from November through April and serves an average of 40 guests each night.

Besides a place to sleep and a warm meal, the shelter offers clothing and access to medical and mental health services, vouchers for transporation and housing assistance.

Volunteers like Dee and Wally Coyle help keep the shelter operating smoothly, said Rebecca Derenne, volunteer and promotions coordinator. She said between 15 and 25 volunteers are needed each day to handle a variety of duties. “We can always use more volunteers,” she said.

Derenne said volunteer shifts run from one to three hours. In the mornings they serve a continental breakfast to guests and help them as they depart the shelter by 9 a.m. During the day, volunteers assist in office and clerical duties, clean, do laundry and organize donations of clothes. Two evening shifts, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., welcome guests to the shelter and help them settle in. The shelter is open seven days a week.

Homeless shelter seeks volunteers

St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter is looking for additional volunteers. Volunteers must be at least 18 and complete an application and background check. Volunteer duties include providing hospitality to guests at check-in, serving morning and evening meals, serving as language interpreters or assisting guests as they study for GED exams, complete job or housing applications or work on literacy skills or resumes.

Non-operational volunteers assist in sorting and organizing donations, doing laundry, doing minor facility repairs and transporting items such as furniture or equipment.

To learn more or to obtain a volunteer application, contact Rebecca Derenne, volunteer and promotions coordinator, (920) 436-9344; email: [email protected] Tours of the shelter are also available to groups by appointment.

Dee Coyle said she sees shelter guests as family.

“It’s just a very good feeling to be able to serve these people as family,” she said, adding that this is what her faith teaches. “Those who cannot speak for themselves, we need to serve them. We need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked.”

The Coyles volunteer in the evenings and Dee said it is a privilege to welcome guests to the shelter. Part of her duties is to help them find clothing items when needed.

“I like to tease them. I tell them ‘I’m your personal shopper, what would you like me to get for you?’ What kind of coat, shoes would you like?’ because they have so little opportunity to exercise their decision making. If you at least give them clothing, let them choose, it’s just a gift to them and they appreciate it so much.”

She has made friends with other volunteers, whom she calls living saints.

“We have a great deal of joy in our lives,” Coyle said. “I wake up in the morning and I’m just thankful for everything I have. We want to share this (joy) here, that you don’t need material things to have happiness, to have a joy of life.”

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