25 Years and Counting

Russell’s face lights up when he talks about his dog Memphis, whom he rescued 10 months ago.

“I have to put the radio on when I leave so he doesn’t get lonely,” he says.

Those times are when Russell is at the Mission Store, where he volunteers three afternoons a week. He can usually be found by the change rooms, offering customers not only access to try on clothing items, but free fashion advice as well.

“The change rooms are where you get to meet people,” he explains. “They try things on and ask how it looks. I like to let them know.”

Russell’s interest in fashion expands beyond just the change rooms. His favourite section of the store to shop is the men’s clothing and he says he owns hundreds of t-shirts. “I try to stay up to date with the fashions,” he laughs.

A volunteer for the past 25 years, Russell first heard of Mission Services of London as a place to stay when he first came to London from Chatham. His sister moved here after getting married, and Russell came as well but had nowhere to stay.

“I lived [at Men’s Mission] for ten years,” he says. He found work in the kitchen, washing dishes before moving to work with the delivery trucks as well. Men’s Mission became more than just a bed – it became a home.

It was Carol, a former manager of the Mission Store, who suggested Russell might like to try a shift as a janitor at the store. He worked in that position for a while before moving to the warehouse.

“The warehouse was good because that’s where the leftover desserts from the Mission would come,” Russell says.

Alexis Zulauf is the Volunteer Coordinator for Mission Services of London and is responsible for recruiting, training, and managing the over 110 volunteers who donate their time to support the branches of service including the Mission Store.

She says it isn’t uncommon for former program participants to come back as volunteers after finding a sense of stability in their lives. “It’s a big driving force for them to want to give back to the organization that helped them. They want to help out and say thank you.”

Finding employment plays a role in maintaining housing and sobriety, so volunteering can be a first step towards meeting that goal. Participants may need recent work experience or training in new areas if they have been unemployed for a period of time.

“Usually they start as volunteers and then turn into staff,” Alexis explains. “We see the value in them.”

Alexis has worked with Russell for four years and says he is an integral part of the store.

“Russell is a staple to us in the store,” she says. “He’s reliable and he’ll never miss a shift. He cares so deeply about every one of us. For the other volunteers, the staff, and the shoppers – he’s a big part of the store… Mission Services has become his family.”

When asked about his future plans, Russell smiles. “I hope to put in another 25 years. I think 50 years is a good amount of time,” he says. “Can’t ask for a better store to work at.”

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