SVdP’s Teacher Trena Reaps As She Sows
St. Vincent de Paul is known as many things, but gateway to a new community, complete with role models for a new chapter? For Trena Cleland, St. Vinnie’s has been that and more since she and her partner Robert MacConnell relocated to Eugene from Berkeley in 2016. Her role as SVdP volunteer has brought her face-to-face with the homeless crisis and allowed her to make a difference in diverse and satisfying ways.
“Volunteering is, first and foremost, a way to leave the world better than you found it.”
St. Vincent de Paul is known as many things, but gateway to a new community, complete with role models for a new chapter?
For Trena Cleland, St. Vinnie’s has been that and more since she and her partner Robert MacConnell relocated to Eugene from Berkeley in 2016. Her role as SVdP volunteer has brought her face-to-face with the homeless crisis and allowed her to make a difference in diverse and satisfying ways.
Her adventure was inspired by reading and hearing about Executive Director Terry McDonald’s innovations and “compassionate, progressive programs” intended to improve circumstances for the most vulnerable. Eager to embrace volunteerism in her adopted community, she signed on with the Egan Warming Center, helping to shelter vulnerable adults during life-threatening cold. The moral support and hospitality she offered was met with gratitude and thanks.
“It feeds my soul,” she said.
As an Egan volunteer, Trena was invited to the volunteer picnic. There, she gained insight into the workings of First Place Family Center, its preschool, and the Night Shelter Annex, and was inspired anew. Now she’s “Teacher Trena” at the preschool, where she plays joyously with toddlers and supports the garden team.
“Since I’d rarely been around little kids, I was curious to see what they are about,” she said. “It’s been a fun and useful way to check out an age group I knew nothing about!
For a relative newcomer, Trena has gotten a pretty good handle on community diversity.
“These gigs allow me to meet a multi-generational, diverse mix of new people, both clients and staff of SVdP,” she said. “I’ve met former loggers; people who grew up hunting and fishing; war veterans; young parents who are juggling children and homelessness; religious people; mentally ill people; recovering addicts; former prisoners; families who live in vehicles; folks with disabilities.
“Many grew up in a culture of poverty, with generational trauma, but they bring strengths, assets, and resilience to their struggles. Investing in them with our time, attention, and services reaps tremendous returns.”
The icing on the cake? Role models!
“The leaders of the Egan Warming Center and First Place Family Center programs have become role models for me,” Trena said. “I’ve repeatedly witnessed their kindness, effective direction, and ability to practice peace in challenging situations. I’ve learned some new concepts and behaviors from them that have improved me as a person.”
Trena’s volunteerism isn’t limited to St. Vinnie’s or even to Oregon. “I love volunteering,” she said. “It’s such a great way to contribute to the world and meet new people at the same time.” Canned-food drives, litter clean-ups, political campaigns, volunteer-run radio stations, recycling programs, fundraising auctions, anti-nuclear protests, AIDS walks, and the SMART Reading program have benefitted from her involvement. She and Robert
volunteer at the Jazz Station, and he lends time to their neighborhood association and repairs tractors for the Friends of Buford Park.
Do they know something that non-volunteers don’t? Perhaps.
“It blows my mind that many people never volunteer, because they’re missing so much!” Trena said. “Volunteering is, first and foremost, a way to leave the world better than you found it.
“Beyond that, it’s often very fun and rewarding in terms of building community and learning new things.”
Trena’s Tips for Prospective Volunteers
|If Trena’s story has inspired you to volunteer, she offers these considerations:
• Figure out what specific issue you’d like to help out with, then search to see what’s out there. Homelessness? Environment? Education? Prison justice? LGBTQ+ issues?
• Ask yourself, Do you want to be indoors or outdoors when you volunteer? Behind the scenes or dealing with the public? Around others or working on your own? Sitting at a desk, or being more active and on your feet?
• Find out who’s doing what in your areas of interest, and gravitate in that direction. Make your preferences known so you’ll be comfortable while giving of your time.