Perseverance and follow through are also key to being a good make that excellent Samaritan, and Dobson has been on it for seven years now in Reno. She helps mainly at the downtown shelter, but has helped elsewhere previously including at various encampments.
“It's necessary. If it wasn't necessary, I'd be doing something else, but it's very necessary. We have doubled the amount of homeless here,” Dobson said at a recent gathering outside Reno's main downtown shelter, which got many in need better prepared for winter months and more, with coats, caps, gloves and shoes being donated, as well as free lunch and haircuts.
Seven Years Helping in Reno. with Growing Volunteer-Based Services
It’s been a process for Dobson, but she says well worth it, and the homeless community now depends on her organizational wizardry.
“We started in 2010 just as a grassroots group on Facebook and in 2011 we became a federally recognized non-profit. And we serve a meal here (at the homeless shelter) three nights a week Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. It's all volunteers that come out. We have no government help, no corporate sponsorships. It's all people who just care about our community and they come out to to serve…”
Dobson has created a community of volunteers, and some nights up to 20 show up. Companies, doctors, the Pirates of Reno, a group from Verdi all chip in on different nights, for different occasions.
“So it's different every night,” Dobson explains, “but every night one thing is, it's there. We give them a home cooked meal ... We also provide (people) with clothing and toiletries, the necessary things they need for days.”
The above is a video postcard by Jordan Gearey of a recent We Care Volunteers outreach event.
A Personal Journey to Help Others
How does one become a volunteer with such a big heart and such outreach? Dobson, a Bay Area transplant, says her parents volunteered, and so she grew up seeing people helping each other. Others in Reno inspired her, and helping a little then led to helping more and more.
“When I came here in 2010 from San Jose, on Facebook there was a gentleman who was making peanut butter jelly sandwiches for the homeless and he would take them down the river. And he was asking for people to volunteer with him. So, I didn't really know a lot of people here. So my son and I we went and we would make peanut butter jelly sandwiches with him and one night he said ‘do you want to come with me and distribute them at a tent city which was 250 people living in the day?’ and it had snowed the day before we came out here…. And we just came out with ramen and peanut butter jelly sandwiches. And everyone was so grateful. And my son and I on the way home we were just like ‘we have to be able to do more’. And so, we just started and started helping. And we even came out and helped other groups. And then, we just decided to do it on our own and it really just worked that way. It wasn't like I ever thought in my life I was going to do something like this. But when the opportunity came we just stepped up and said you know, we've got to do something and it just grew into what we have today.”
Challenges in Growth
Some of the challenges she faces come from the growth of the services she provides, but she says that’s a good problem to have.
“We started off with carting my food in my Wrangler and then we outgrew that ... we went to a van where we are outgrowing the van and so we need to think about you know getting a bigger vehicle for transporting things. So those are the biggest challenges really. It's just like any other organization or business as you grow you have to expand, you have to. You know, look at what you can do to make things better every single time.”
Avoiding the Word 'Homeless'
As some other activists, for those she helps, she prefers to avoid the word “homeless”.
“I mean I hate that …. the word homeless ... because you know they're houseless, but you know the whole world is our home. And if we had affordable housing here in Reno, a majority of these people would not be on the streets. I've been here seven years and I've seen in my own neighborhood that their rents have tripled. So, where there was an opportunity a couple of years ago for someone to get some funding and get off the streets right now with the way the rents are? … And so, I just want people to know that everyone of these people could be you. I mean all it takes is …. being ill or having someone die or getting a divorce …. those things can can set people out on the streets and they have no place else to go. So, I mean I would love people to realize that they are no different than you and I and that they deserve to be helped.”
Noticing the Affordable Housing Crisis in Reno
“We have pregnant women sleeping on the streets. That's just ridiculous," Dobson said of the current housing crunch. "That makes me very disappointed that you know our elderly people, that our veterans and women with children that they have to be put underneath that kind of stress.”
If someone is interested in joining the We Care endeavors, Dobson said they shouldn't hesitate.
“ People can find us on Facebook. We have a website. You're welcome to come out any Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. You can come by yourself. It's a safe place…. Families can come. And it is really rewarding... No one person can do it. It takes a community to help others.”
PHOTOS, REPORTING AND VIDEO BY PRINCE NESTA AND JORDAN GEAREY FOR OUR TOWN RENO