Volunteering at St. Francis House

Volunteering at St. Francis House

Volunteers play an essential role in making our work possible. If you are 17 years or older, donating your time in our kitchen, our clothing department, or the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio is a great way to make an impact in your community in a friendly and supportive environment. We appreciate the help of individuals and small groups who show generosity and passion for service at St. Francis House every day.

Volunteers in our kitchen help us serve breakfast and lunch to hundreds of guests 7 days a week. If you’re an early riser, we would love to have your help serving breakfast from 7AM until 9AM. Mid-day, volunteers serve help serve lunch from 11AM until 1:30PM. You can also help prep lunch from 9AM until 11:00AM on weekdays.

St. Francis House is the largest distributor of clothing to people experiencing homelessness in the Boston area. Our Fresh Threads program provides our guests with basic clothing, shoes, undergarments, and seasonal essentials. We make sure to provide our guests with a variety of options so they can choose clothing that not only meets their needs but fits their style and feels good to wear. As a volunteer in our clothing department, you can assist our staff and help connect our guests with the clothing that is right for them. We have clothing shifts available in the morning from 8:45AM until 11AM and in the afternoon from 12:30PM until 2PM.

For the artistically inclined, we have unique volunteer opportunities in the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio. Every weekday, up to 20 guests come to our art studio to paint, draw, weave, and more under the guidance of our Art Therapist, Gurleen. Volunteers in this department help Gurleen with organized projects and work with guests as they create art in a variety of different mediums. We have various shifts available in the art studio between the hours of 8AM and 2:30PM Monday through Friday.

When you volunteer at St. Francis House you make our mission to rebuild lives possible. To get started, visit www.stfrancishouse.org/volunteer and fill out a new volunteer form. Any questions about volunteering can be directed to our Volunteer Services Coordinator at (617) 654-1212.

Meet Betty Smith, Our July Staff Spotlight

In April 2022, St. Francis House and the Boston Public Health Commission launched the Recovery Route, which transports people experiencing homelessness in the Mass and Cass area to St. Francis House to receive services. As soon as this project was announced, Guest Engagement Liaison Betty Smith jumped at the opportunity to take on a leading role. Betty has taken on a variety of different responsibilities in her time at St. Francis House, but the Recovery Route has been her focus in recent months. Betty greets every van on the Recovery Route, making sure each new guest at St. Francis House feels welcomed and respected. Since April, Betty welcomed almost 250 new guests from Mass and Cass and introduced well over 100 people to additional services in other departments. Using empathy and drawing from lived experience with homelessness, Betty greets every new guest warmly and without judgement to build a trusting relationship with every person accessing our services.

How long have you been at St. Francis House and what do you do here? 

I’ve been here for 1 year and 10 months and I’m a Guest Engagement Liaison, or G.E.L. I also oversee the Recovery Route. As G.E.L.’s we do registration for the new guests and we direct them to departments that may be of help to that particular individual, depending on the situation at hand.

The recovery route is very new, and it’s been going really well. People have gotten into detox and a young guy got a job [after being connected to our services by the route.] New guests are more open about coming to me and asking for clothing or food or anything they need to help them out throughout the day. I try to make sure they get the things they need.

There have also been times in this role that I’ve had a direct hand in saving the lives of guests who are in distress and need immediate medical attention. My work varies greatly from day to day.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Meeting people, talking to them and letting them know that I am here for them. I probably don’t have all the answers, but I try to lead them to some of the answers they may be seeking.

Is there anything you wish people knew about your role or your department?

I think they should know that when it comes to the G.E.L. department, we are very strong oriented individuals who are here to help out the organization. We are the first point of contact when you come into the building, and we are the individuals that direct guests to the department that seems to be the best fit for their situation.

Why is that so important that guests have someone whose job it is to reach out and engage with them as soon as they come in?

A lot of our guest are experiencing homelessness and have been through a lot and don’t know what to do. Sometimes it’s good to start out a conversation just asking, “what’s your name, how are you doing?” Once you pass the “how are you doing” phase, it opens up the conversation to other things. That’s how you engage with them and that’s how you find out what they need, by trying to have an open and trusting conversation. It can be hard to trust people when you’re living that lifestyle. It’s good to know that when you come to St. Francis House, you’re going to meet individuals that are caring, very smart, and that are always going to be there to help you.

It’s not just trying to connect people with services, it’s also trying to connect with them to show they can trust you.

Right, be open yourself and they will often open up to you. I’d rather be an ear than a mouth. I’d rather listen than speak because that’s what people want you to do. They don’t want to hear what you have to say, they want you to listen to them, they want you to listen to what they’ve been through. That way you can get them directions and information about how to go about whatever it is they’ve been through. If you don’t know how to do it, G.E.L.’s can always contact someone who can help them out.

I worked at Pine Street too, so I know some of our guests from Pine Street, and I was homeless too.

How does that lived experience play into your work?

Being homeless when I was pregnant was pretty hard. I had to live with a whole bunch of different women and children and everyone is different. It helped be grow because, for one, there were a lot of different ethnicities and there was a lot of different things that you saw and things that you heard. Everybody is not the same. You might have similarities within what you’re going through, but everyone’s situation is different. I learned how to build and take in all the knowledge that was given to me and now I have the opportunity to share it.

I always tell people coming to St. Francis House that it’s ok because I was once homeless. I may not know what you’re going through personally, but I’ve at least partially been in your shoes.

They know you’re not going to be judgmental that way.

Right, I don’t like to be judgmental. If you’re a judgmental, biased individual, working with the homeless community is not for you.

Guests Share Poetry at St. Francis House

People experiencing homelessness often have few opportunities to express themselves. Our staff encourages self-expression in supportive and welcoming environments like the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Art Studio and the Carolyn Connors Women’s Center. We welcome guests in these spaces to share their feelings in whatever form they take, and listen to their thoughts and stories. Often, guests choose to write poetry that reflects their wide variety of experiences. Nearly all of our guests have been through some form of trauma. Because of this, safe spaces play an important role in helping our guests form trusting relationships and regain stability.

In the Carolyn Connors Women’s Center staff occasionally lead poetry groups that are open to all guests who identify as women. Women experiencing homelessness are at especially high risk of violence, making safe spaces like our Women’s Center even more essential. Oftentimes women in our women’s center will write poems that center around finding sanctuary and safety wherever they can. Here are a few poems written by anonymous women who are guests at St. Francis House:

Finding My Door

Late night trying to find five minutes to yourself

Walking around with a fifty pound bag

Of your only belongings in the world

Looking for just one second alone…

To cry

To laugh

To just try and think

Where is this place?

Keep looking for your door

Where will my door be tonight?

LIDS on Washington? Under a blanket

That is getting my clothes covered in wool and fibers

Behind boxes from wherever you can find them…

In a train station with strangers or

With everyone around you doing all drugs available

And not available easily

Just breathe and keep finding that door.

Enjoy every second you have behind your door.

It opens to quickly

Stay safe above all even if your door stays open.


A bathroom.

An hour of peace.

A door to close.

Don’t Be A Scumbag

Some people can’t handle this life

It hurts to be who they are

Don’t lower yourself

Don’t be a scumbag.

Moses Bassie, a regular at the Art Studio, uses the space to paint and write stream-of-consciousness poems.

Giving guests time and space to express themselves and listening to their experiences shows that they are not alone and that there are people who care. Providing safe spaces where guests feel heard can be an important step in connecting them with services that meet their unique needs, whether that be workforce readiness training, recovery support, or more. Using a person-centered approach, we make every effort to meet guests where they are at and show that they are safe and welcome at St. Francis House.

Boston.com readers recommend the best places to volunteer

The last two years have made obvious the ways that many in our communities are struggling with basic needs, and how important it is for those who are able to lend a helping hand when they can.

The pandemic has made it harder for some to volunteer because of fear of COVID-19 transmission, but several of our readers said they had volunteered in the last year for causes that support women’s rights, animal rights, environmental justice, housing, immigration, and more.

Jennifer L. from Arlington said she and her family volunteer at Community Servings, Community Cooks, and Boston Area Gleaners because they are very focused on “food, health, and sustainability.” Read the full article.

Working with LanguageLine Solutions, St. Francis House Lifts the Language Barrier

People experiencing homelessness face a multitude of challenges. Many face the additional challenge of language as a barrier to accessing supportive services that would help them overcome homelessness. At St. Francis House we are working with LanguageLine Solutions to address this problem and better serve our non-English speaking guests. With LanguageLine’s interpretation and translation services in over 200 auditory languages and 40 visual languages, we will be able to effectively communicate with all of our guests to connect them with the services they need. We spoke with Rachel Shuman, Programs Assistant at St. Francis House, about how we will be using this service and the impact it will have on our guests.

Could you tell us about how LanguageLine works and how we’re going to use it?

If a guest walks into our building and needs an interpreter for any reason, our staff will be able to call a toll-free phone number specifically created for St. Francis House and get in touch with a live interpreter within 2 minutes. Staff will simply be prompted to select the language they are needing an interpreter for (if staff are not sure, there is an option available to help figure out the language the guest speaks), state the staff member’s name, and provide a quick synopsis of what the conversation is going to be about.

As an example, if I was working with a guest and called for an interpreter, I could say “My name is Rachel, I’m working on case management with a guest and we’re working on a housing search today.” Just something short to orient the interpreter. The interpreter will introduce themselves and at that point, we would put the phone on speaker so everyone can hear each other, and the interpreting can begin. The guest and I would speak to each other as per usual, just making sure to pause every few seconds to allow the interpreter to translate.

There’s also a LanguageLine application that our incredible IT team has downloaded onto all of their devices that provide video interpretation for visual and not spoken languages. The languages available are listed in English as well as the native language, so staff and guests can select whatever language is needed for interpretation and connect to an interpreter over video in minutes.

They also have a service where you can schedule an in-person interpreter. For example, if a guest who needs an interpreter has a court hearing and the court will allow them to bring their own interpreter, we can schedule an interpreter to show up in court for that date and time to support our guest.

For the translation service, we can send over any documents or fliers or things we want to be translated into any language. They have a very extensive, thorough process of translating those documents for us and then they’ll send them back.

In terms of how we would use it, we imagine it will be most helpful for our case management team, our housing team, and guest engagement liaisons. Anyone in a guest-facing role who helps actively engages with guests in supportive services will be utilizing this service.

What does a service like this mean to a guest who doesn’t speak the language that our staff does? What does it unlock for them?

The hope is that it eliminates the language barrier altogether, or at least to a significant extent, so guests can easily access our services. Additionally, our team can use it as a tool to support our guests in interacting with other organizations and agencies. Our staff can go with a guest who doesn’t speak English and call the interpreter on the phone and be able to support that guest through processes that were previously unavailable to them.

St. Francis House is the only place in Boston that offers a multitude of services [like mealsclothingrecovery servicesworkforce development, and housing] all in one place. It opens a lot of doors in that way. All of our services are now accessible in a multitude of languages in one place and that’s what sets us apart.

How has the implementation gone so far?

It’s still pretty new but so far it has gone well. It’s straightforward, especially since most of the staff will be using it on the phone in their office with guests. It is a little bit of a transition because we have to let the guests know that the service is available. We have posters at the front desk that list all of the languages we now have available so if a guest needs a language for interpretation, it’s right there and they can let us know as soon as they walk in.

Why is it especially important for St. Francis House, as a homeless shelter, to have access to this resource and this level of accessibility?

For a few reasons. One is that we have historically been relying on our bilingual and multilingual staff members who have been extremely generous with their time supporting other staff and guests by acting as a step-in interpreters. So, in that aspect, those staff will get some of their time back to focus on their work, which is valuable.

Also, language is such an incredible barrier in terms of accessing housing, income, behavioral health, and mental health support. That barrier can exacerbate the cycle of homelessness and push people into chronic homelessness, whereas that may not have been the case if that individual spoke English and could access supportive services from the start. The burden really falls on and should fall on, the service providers to break down that barrier and support non-English speaking guests. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate based on the language you speak, and the services should reflect that. St. Francis House having this service is incredibly important in helping our guests move toward our theory of change goals as well: housing stability, income stability, and behavioral health stability. It’s an invaluable accessibility tool for us to have to ensure individuals are not further marginalized within the population because of the language they speak inside our doors.