Consider Becoming a PADS Volunteer PDF Print E-mail

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By: T. Brent Newman — C.E.O. Grundy County Housing Authority

Every year here in Grundy County, from the months of October to April, seven area churches let people with nowhere else to go sleep in their premises overnight from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. Most often this is on four-inch foam pad, covered with linen provided by our local hospital. The program is called Public Action to Deliver Sustenance (PADS). It’s completely volunteer and operates with a few donations of food and very little actual cash. It’s one way our community helps to take care of those around us during the brutal winters here in northern Illinois.

I volunteer once a month, taking a shift from 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. I do it because it’s necessary, like dusting, or going to visit my sister-in-law. I distinctly do not do it because it’s a glamorous way to spend my time.

I will admit, though, there is much to envy regarding my volunteer job at PADS. Among the many envy inducing things I get to do:

• Scrubbing the church toilets with bleach, on my hands and knees, at 6:30 a.m.

• Being a complete and utter ill-tempered mess for about a day and a half until I get my sleep schedule back to normal.

• My personal favorite — telling folks at 7 a.m it’s time to go. This is all the more true when I have no idea where they’re going to go and it’s minus 14 buhjillion degrees below zero. Just in case you’re wondering, “buhjillion” is a mathematical term of art defined by my grandmother as “a whole lot more than a passle.”


I work at a public housing authority. I’m supposed to be used to working with poor people, fearless in all regards to their plight. I’m supposed to be a social magician, able with the stroke of my bureaucratic pen to transform the misfortunes of those huddled masses yearning to be housed. But between you and me, I don’t feel very powerful at all when I’m at PADS. In fact, I feel awfully, awfully small. And in a whole lot of ways, petty.

I have important things about which to worry, lots of ‘em. Like how I’m going to choose the food to eat for my meals. At my kitchen table. In my kitchen. In my home. Where I get to sleep. Every night. Yeah — important things like that.

So all this begs the question, I suppose, why exactly DO I get up at 2 in the morning once a month during the coldest months of the year to do this? Especially when there’s no glamor to it. I end up feeling small and petty because of my sense of entitlement, and I hate that I’m providing a short term, quick semi-fix to people who need so much more.

I do it because it reminds me that being a leader should mean that I am not a master, but a servant. I do it because it reminds me that love can work amazing miracles in our lives, no matter how desperate or awful our lives might seem. I do it because of the small victories that make huge differences in the lives of the people who are served at PADS: Ed arrived sober two nights in a row, Sam got his teeth fixed, Paula got a full time job, or the elusive holy grail sought by everyone who comes to PADS, guests and volunteers alike — someone found fixed, permanent overnight shelter. (These are, of course, fictional examples, not particular people served by PADS).

A recent night was the final night of this PADS season for me. I can’t tell you that I’ve made a difference, nor can I tell you this is the volunteer opportunity that will change your life. But I can tell you that next October there are sure to be people who need a warm place to sleep, and your kind word can be the difference, literally, between them deciding to trudge through another cold Illinois winter’s day or just lay down and die. So I can encourage you to think about what you might be willing to do to help. And I do.

Consider laying down your fears. Consider laying down your pride. Consider laying everything down for just four hours once a month. If you would like to be a part of giving people a chance for small miracles, please visit the PADS web site at, or feel free to contact me.

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