News, Springfield

Egan Warming Center warms hearts

Longtime Springfield Egan Warming Center volunteer Diane Cunningham shares her experiences with the organization during a volunteer training in Springfield on Dec. 19. Aliya Hall/The Chronicle

SPRINGFIELD ­- Egan Warming Center has a personal connection for volunteer Shelley Davidson. Davidson said that it’s important to her to give back to the community, because she has been there.
She has been homeless before.
”It’s a humbling experience,” she said, adding that volunteering at the Egan Warming Center ”was really cool; everyone was really nice and appreciative of us being open.”
The county-funded organization, which is named after Major Thomas Egan, who froze to death on the streets, ensures that homeless people have shelter during extreme cold weather. Egan Warming Center held a volunteer training at its Springfield Center on Dec. 19 as an orientation for potential volunteers.
Springfield only has one Egan location, which they worked with the City of Springfield to find. They have a one-year lease in the Memorial Building on 765 A St.
Every night they activate, which is when the weather is under 30 degrees through March, Egan needs around 28 volunteers across their eight locations. Site leader Theresa Koford said there are around 200 volunteers in Springfield who are willing to give their time.
”It’s a big ask for any building or church to say, ‘Show up on the worst weather days of the year with around 30 people and 110 guests,’” Koford said.
This season, Egan has been open for six nights. Two of those days were in October, which is out of their normal open season but there were special circumstances with the weather. So far, 816 guests have spent the night in the center.
”Folks trained today will know what the job entails and will be here on the site,” Koford said. ”We teach them about who they’re going to see, what our ethos is, why we do this and how to interact with guests.”
Volunteers are required to sign an application form and attend a training, and from there they can sign up for shifts are they become available. Volunteer coordinator Shari Walton said the qualifications for volunteers are simple: show up and be friendly. She added that normally people do things in the hopes that it will make a difference; but at Egan, each volunteer is actively making things better.
Diane Cunningham, a longtime Springfield volunteer, said that when she first started out it felt like a duty that she should do, but after her first night she said it no longer felt that way.
”I try to never miss a night,” she said. ”I have fun. I love the people I volunteer with; we call it ‘winter camp.’”
She added that after her shift of helping around 100 people get settled in for the night, ”you know 100 people will live through the night.”
Koford, who has volunteered with Egan for four years, said that her position as site leader has her working on logistics behind the scenes: Is there enough toilet paper? Are the volunteers trained?
For Davidson, who has volunteered only once before but came to the training again with a friend who is interested in volunteering, said that ”it all comes down to kindness.”
”We want them to understand privacy is important; they’re public people,” Koford said. ”They really are your neighbors, and they’re out all the time.”