The YWCA Family Center

And the Worthington Presbyterian Volunteers

By Bill Nordquist

This is the YWCA Family Center in Columbus. It opened in late 2005 and provides safe, temporary shelter for families that don't have a place to stay. But the Y Family Center is much more than just a place to sleep. The Center provides nutritious meals, job hunting assistance, child care, classes and other family-related services that help a family get back on its feet. The Center's specialty is finding permanent housing for families, and they usually do that within three weeks.

The Center looks like a nice place, and it is. There's a gym, computer room, dining hall, library and playground. Each family gets a small bedroom with two bunk beds (more if they need it), which is great, because many of the families have preschool and school-aged children. Any parent can appreciate the value of a having a safe, quiet place for your kids to sleep in.

Worthington Presbyterian: Since 1805

Our Church, Worthington Presbyterian, has been supporting the Y Family Center since it opened. My friend and fellow church member Doug Haddix nominated me to be the volunteer coordinator for the program. I had some previous volunteer experience with the Interfaith Hospitality Network and Boulevard Presbyterian's Phoenix House program, so Doug thought I would be a good fit. Turns out he was right and I'm still at it. Our efforts are also supported by Worthington Presbyterian staff members in accounting, administration, communications, food service and transportation.

Here we see Y Family Center staff members Don and JoVoni. Don (left) just started working at The Y Family Center and will be an evening kitchen supervisor. Don is passionate about making delicious food. The night we were there he continuously tasted everything he was cooking and kept adding ingredients and seasoning until it was just right.

JoVoni (right) has been with the Y Family Center for six years. He started working there with AmeriCorps and stayed on afterwards to work in the kitchen full-time. Now he manages food services for the Y Family Center.

JoVoni grew up in a church in Cincinnati and his father is a minister. He and his mom served big church dinners all the time, so he knows what he's doing. Sometimes it seems like his work at the Y Family Center is more mission than job to him.

Even though the Y Family Center dining room and kitchen are cafeteria-like, and he's responsible for feeding hundreds of people every day, JoVoni will drop what he's doing to meet a special dietary need request, or to help a mom get formula and bottles for her baby. And he's nice about it, no matter how busy he is. JoVoni regularly makes meals from scratch. Real scratch. Like taking whole fresh chickens, raw sweet potatoes and fresh brocolli and making dinner for 150. It's impressive to watch him work.

JoVoni also educates us volunteers while we work. He'll stop to show us how to safely prep and label food for storage in the walk-in cooler, or he'll suggest we use the electric steamer or another kitchen tool to speed up our food prep. The ability to manage volunteers without running them off is a special skill set, and JoVoni has it.

Since 2005 Worthington Presbyterian volunteers have provided over 8,500 meals for the Y Family Center. Our church is just one of many other churches, civic and business groups that provide food and service volunteers. Together, we cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in meal costs for the families, year round.

In our case, all of the food is graciously donated by church members and friends. These volunteers don't just give money, they go to the store and purchase specific items and deliver them to the church in time for the dinner. It takes about 30 individual donors to collect enough food to feed 150-200 people.

Our regular menu is beef ravioli, wheat bread with butter, vegetable salad with ranch dressing, bananas, and 2% milk. We used to serve cookies, but JoVoni is trying to reduce overall sugar consumption, so now we just serve bananas for dessert. The kids and adults seem OK with that, though some kids have asked us where the cookies are.

Many of our church volunteers are regulars and have been serving for years. Most of us ride together on the church bus, though some come directly from work and drive themselves. We usually get there about 5:15pm and have dinner ready for the first seating at 6pm.

I'm trained to drive this beauty. She's real fun with a load of passengers
and rush-hour traffic on 71S, during a blizzard.

Betsy, Carol and Sue prepping fresh produce.

Once everyone arrives at the Y Family Center things just start happening - people fix pans of ravioli, prep salad, cut fruit, and set tables. New volunteers pick an activity and jump in. There's always lot of chatter going on, and I have to say all the volunteers,  staff and families are so genuinely nice that we truly enjoy the time while we're working.

This Worthington Presbyterian hospitality crew is so good that everything is ready for the first dinner seating with 15 minutes to spare.  Shown here, left to right: Diana Clouse, Beckie Dicke, Sue Funk, Milo Hilty, Jim Galbo, Carol Hofer, Betsy Senff, Mark Senff.

Another crew view. This time you can see Carol's face, and that's me with the glasses
in the back toward the middle.

Poor Mark. High-powered attorney by day, lonely dishwasher by night.
He works it like a champ nonetheless.