Kentucky volunteers make the difference for Uspiritus

We’ve all heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At United Church of Christ-related Uspiritus in Louisville, Ky., it takes the whole community.

As with all CHHSM-member ministries, Uspiritus relies on volunteers from many local businesses and churches. For example, the main UPS hub in Louisville leads a number of businesses who help provide welcome baskets for the residents upon their arrival, and suitcases for youth setting out on their own following treatment.

Each welcome basket contains a blanket or quilt, a stuffed animal, a poster or calendar for the child’s room, hygiene products, and more.

“The purpose is essentially to ‘welcome’ the new child, and let them know they are at a safe place,” says Missy Fountain, director of community engagement. “It can be very scary for the kids when they get here … those items of comfort really brighten their day. You would be surprised how much even the older boys love the stuffed animals. Sometimes, it’s the first [toy or gift] they’ve ever received.”

“I’m not sure I have the words that can even describe the impact,” Fountain adds. “It has made the biggest difference in making that first day feel good for a new kid.”

Employees from local businesses, college students, and local church members run important drives throughout the year for such items as Easter baskets, Christmas presents, or summer fun items. “We don’t have the money in the budget for those things,” so the community businesses and churches really come through, says Fountain.

But, more importantly, they also spend time with the children and youth, thanks to the corporate culture of many businesses that encourages staff to volunteer. They play, whether it’s going on a fishing trip, holding a cookout, hosting a Christmas party, or participating in a water activity day.

“It’s really part of our treatment process,” says Fountain. “The kids can practice what they learn about how to interact with others, plus they’re learning to trust adults again … and building self-esteem.”

Uspiritus serves some 1,300 children and youth each year, of which 165 live on the residential campuses. In 2016 alone, 1,500 Louisville-area volunteers donated 11,000 hours at Uspiritus, which works out to one day per volunteer. Their presence “reinforces the message, ‘You’re important to us,’” says Fountain. “‘You matter.’”

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