Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
George Weiland | Metropolitan Ministries
George Weiland had just left a job interview in downtown Tampa on a hot sunny day. Recently retired from USAA, the former claims director was looking for a little part-time work.
“I had just applied for a job as a parole officer and I got the famous line ‘We’ll call you.’ So, I left there and was coming up the street and I said ‘You know what, I think I’ll just pull in here.”
Here, was Metropolitan Ministries. There was no part-time job there either. There was something else, something far more valuable to George.
He was not a complete stranger to this place. Metropolitan Ministries was a local volunteer-fueled community shelter for the poor and homeless. While employed at USAA, he had volunteered at Metro’s storied donation tent during the holiday season. His exposure to the ministry during the holidays was very rewarding he says, but this was different. The building was overflowing with people who were in need of clothing and proper hygiene or food.
“It was midday and loaded with people,” recalls George. “I walked in and was introduced to the assistant director. He told me to have a seat and that he would be right back. He wasn’t gone long and when he came back, he looked at me and said ‘What are you doing sitting there? Get in one of those offices over there and help out.’ I said you’re kidding, right? He introduced me to two other volunteers. Really nice, patient people. And I jumped right in.”
And he hasn’t jumped back out. From that day in 2006 and for the next eight years, George volunteered at Metro’s family center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., eventually cutting back from four to three to two days a week, his current schedule.
“It’s been a blessing for me,” he says. “I just always had in my DNA a pleasure in helping other people. I enjoy it and I have the time.”
There are few tasks George hasn’t taken on including sweeping the floors. He literally helps direct the lives of those who come to the shelter assisting with rent and utilities, groceries, clothing and much, much more. A defacto case worker.
One of his favorite duties: supplying baked goods for the clients. “We have a market here and when I come in with the boxes and I see that part of our market is bare, it is very fulfilling to know that these bread and baked goods are going to people who probably haven’t even been in a Publix,” he says. “You have a family with two children and mom and dad and they’re making $10 an hour.”
Then there are those who come to the ministry from out of state looking for a better life…and not finding it. “They need to get back home somewhere and we work with them on that. We won’t send somebody from Tampa back home to Houston to be homeless. We verify where they come from, that they qualify, that they have a loved one to live with and they want to reestablish themselves. If so, we will partner with them and put up a few bucks to help get them where they need to go.”
“George has been trained on every aspect of Outreach here and treats our clients with the utmost dignity and compassion. His passion has always been aligned with the chronically homeless in the community,” says Nathan Gula, Metropolitan Ministries’ Associate Director, Volunteer Services.
Says George: “A lot of folks just want someone to talk to. They just want to share their challenges. I do my fair share of talking, but I have become a good listener.”
It was no surprise that when Metropolitan Ministries moved toward a mobile outreach model within at-risk communities through the launch of the Metro Brigaide in February, George’s phone rang.
“He was the first volunteer we contacted to align with our outreach strategy,” says Gula.
George’s new “outpost” is Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Tampa. “We’re dealing with the folks primarily in neighborhoods where there are homeless or the working poor,” says George. “If they’re homeless, they’re walking, unless they are lucky enough to have a bus pass. With this, we bring the mission to them.
At the church, George and other volunteers help clients with in obtaining all of the necessities as well as employment, food stamps, a Florida ID and health care through Hillsborough Health, a managed care program for county residents with limited income and assets.
“I have people ask me all the time, why do you go down in the ‘hood,” says George. “I tell them I do it because I like it. I enjoy the opportunity. Plus, I love the people I work with at the ministry. They treat their volunteers with respect. They are great people to work for and they make it fun.
And there is something else. “I was raised in the city of Baltimore,” he says with a wry smile. It provided him with a good sense of what was required for missions such as this. His father, too, had experience in working in Baltimore’s inner city.
A University of Baltimore graduate, George and his wife, Linda, are married 50 year ago this month. They followed his parents from Maryland to the warmer climates of Tampa more than 40 years ago and started a family of their own. It was while he was in high school in the Charm City that George got his first taste of charitable giving as a member of the Junior Peace Corps. Led by his history teacher, he remembers collecting pencils to send to students in Bolivia.
The smiles, the handshakes and the hugs and the occasional card during the holidays make it all worthwhile for this selfless man.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
Metropolitan Ministries’ services are designed to help children and families, no matter how serious their needs. Whether they need to get off the streets at night, or they’re seeking education so they can get a job that will support their family, MetroMin can help. For more information go to www.metromin.org