Volunteers shine bright at The Beacon Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Apr. 19, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
beacon volunteers
Volunteers Darrell and Janie help out in the kitchen at The Beacon in Madison. (Contributed photo)

MADISON -- “There’s nothing better you can do with your time than to help people who are suffering, have a decent life, [and be] able to lead the life they want,” said volunteer coordinator Tami Fleming from The Beacon.

The Beacon is a comprehensive day resource center for people who are experiencing homelessness in Dane County.

It is a joint venture among Catholic Charities Madison, Dane County, the City of Madison, and United Way of Dane County.

In addition to its staff, The Beacon needs about 20 volunteers per day -- half in a morning shift and half in an afternoon shift -- to run the normal day-to-day operations. Shifts are about four hours long.

The Beacon is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and has volunteer opportunities as a front desk greeter, laundry and shower manager, computer lab assistant, guest and child and family advocate, among many others.

Becoming a volunteer

“We need volunteers every day,” said Fleming.

The first step in becoming a volunteer at The Beacon is attending an orientation session. They are held at The Beacon (615 E. Washington Ave., Madison) Wednesdays at 6 p.m. and Fridays at 9 a.m.

Fleming said these two-hour sessions give prospective volunteers a chance to “get a real feel for it” and “hear what it’s about [and] see the place.”

She admitted she is “real frank with people” about the challenges they may face working with homeless people who need help.

She also called it “a great opportunity to serve people who are suffering here in Madison, the most vulnerable people in Madison . . . if they care for this population, this is the right opportunity.”

“Because people are coming in here with that trauma, we have to, as volunteers, be understanding of that and not just judging of that behavior and just realize when people are crabby, it’s not about us, it’s about the trauma they’re experiencing and it gives us an opportunity to give people grace,” Fleming said.

If new volunteers choose to get involved at The Beacon, they can sign up for shift at the center’s website: http://the following a background check.

Anyone over 18 can volunteer at The Beacon.

Volunteers can help once a month, once a week, or whenever they are able to.

Laundry duty at The Beacon involves cleaning and folding the clothes of the guests who come in, some needing clean clothes for a job interview.

Guest Advocate duty is more one-on-one and could involve having conversations with the guests, seeing where they best need help, directing them to people and services, or even just fixing them a plate of food during lunch time.

A computer lab shift may involve helping guests find Web resources to help them with jobs and housing.

A shift at the front desk offers opportunities to interact with the guests as they first enter The Beacon and helping them find what they need do.

For those unable to give of their time during a shift at the physical location, other volunteer opportunities are available, such as soliciting for donations, helping collect toiletries for the showers, or helping to deliver food to The Beacon for its daily meals which have to be provided or donated every day.

Volunteer stories

Art Wind from Middleton is a volunteer coach at The Beacon.

His main duty is to make sure all the volunteer shifts are filled on a certain day, and if they aren’t, he’ll contact people on the volunteer list to see if they can help out, or he will occasionally fill in on those duties himself.

He has been involved at The Beacon since the first of the year after “realizing that there are so many people that are so less fortunate than I am . . . just witnessing what some of these folks have to go through on a daily basis just to survive today, just this one day, is just incredible.”

In addition to driving the bus that picks up The Beacon guests from area overnight shelters and brings them back there in the evening, Wind also recently had to bring a guest to the emergency room who was injured trying to find a place to sleep overnight, already using his allowed nights in a shelter.

“Being here makes me feel like I’m helping out in some small way to make their lives a little brighter and try to improve their attitude and the way they approach other guests,” said Wind.

He added that when the guests are helped, it’s a welcome experience.

“When you can witness someone who’s been through all of this and they finally have a bright spot like finding an apartment or they get a job, you see it in their eyes. It’s just so rewarding to see that.”

Longtime volunteer for homeless Karyl Rice from Madison is also a volunteer coach, in addition to performing other volunteer duties at The Beacon.

“Helping somebody secure a job is probably the most rewarding because even though that isn’t housing, it can lead to housing and I think having a stable financial situation gives people hope to be able to afford housing,” said Rice.

“There are tiny little successes too. Things that just put a smile on someone’s face who may never be housed,” she added. “You don’t have to go from something dire to perfect to feel like you’re giving back.”

Another success story Rice told was of people who were once helped by The Beacon now come back and volunteer to help others.

“Being part of humanity means having compassion for other humans. That’s why I feel like everyone should see and help. Being ignorant about people’s suffering doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” Rice said.

For more information on The Beacon, including how to become a volunteer, go to The Beacon website at http://the or contact Volunteer Coordinator Tami Fleming at 608-826-8022 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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