September Volunteer Spotlight: Recovery Month Edition
September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate recovery and share stories about how substance use treatment and mental health services have helped people live healthy and rewarding lives.
This month we were honored to connect with an Employment Access Center (EAC) Clothing Closet volunteer who also identifies as being in recovery. Read how recovery has impacted Dikeeshea’s attitude towards volunteerism, her interactions with others, and her career aspirations.
Name: Dikeeshea Witherspoon
Position: I volunteer in the clothing closet at the Employment Access Center.
Could you tell me a little about your duties in the clothing closet?
My duties in the clothing closet are going through any clothing that people donate to Central City Concern, [deciding] what I think should be put in the clothing closet and then organizing by size and style. I also help when people come in and need an outfit put together for an interview; they’re looking for a certain size of pants, or a shirt, or if they just need some clothes. It’s fun because me being the age that I am (millennial) I can kind of hit towards the hipper stuff to wear.
What first drew you to Central City Concern?
I was working but I wanted to give back to the community that I took from. Using drugs, stealing, like all of the crazy stuff that comes along with using drugs and drinking and being homeless, I wanted to give back. So I started volunteering at the St. Francis Church in Eugene after two people in recovery told me about it. Boy, was it an experience! To be able to feed the community no matter what walks of life they went through; I was eager to be a part of something like that. I wanted to stay volunteering and after I came to Portland, I wanted to keep being a part of a group. That’s what really pushed me into Central City Concern.
Since coming here do you feel like you’ve become a part of the bigger group?
Oh yes! Especially since I got a nametag and my picture is on it and it says “volunteer” on the bottom. I feel like I’m part of the community just because I am a volunteer. I can walk into the EAC and feel absolutely comfortable. Yeah, it’s homey. I’m there and it’s good for me.
How would you say your recovery has informed your volunteerism and vice versa?
I go to NA meetings and I have a service position, but for me that’s not enough. Being able to volunteer for a community that is the same as what I’m going through or what I’ve been through---like the community of being homeless, the community of looking for a job and trying to survive outside---I feel like it’s helped my recovery tremendously. If I didn’t volunteer, I’m not sure my recovery would’ve blossomed as much as it has. It holds me accountable. Like, if I don’t volunteer am I giving back? I’m not.
I started outdoing drugs and drinking and not thinking about who I was hurting, about the people I was hurting outside of myself. You know, like my family, like all the crimes I committed while being under the influence, not worrying about taxpayers money, not worrying about anything. I just didn’t care. But now that I’m clean and sober I see all of the people that I hurt, how much I hurt myself, how just, disgusting I felt inside. And how pure, and clean, and open that I feel now I’m clean and sober and I’ve been able to help with volunteering and even working. It’s very full circle.
Have you had any experiences in the clothing closet that have stuck with you or just made your day?
So one day there was this gentleman who was really early on in his recovery. He came into the clothing closet and he didn’t have any teeth in and he was really embarrassed. He was talking like his mouth was almost closed and he had his hand over his mouth and I was thinking “oh my gosh, why is he doing that,” you know? And then he said, “Oh, I’m sorry I’m talking muffled, I just don’t have my teeth in. I haven’t got them yet.” And so for somebody to come in and try to find clothes because he has a job interview and he doesn’t even have his teeth yet, that touched my heart. He’s still looking for work and he’s going to go into this interview teeth in or not! I don’t know if I didn’t have teeth in, or if I couldn’t take a shower, or if I couldn’t do my hair or put on makeup, I don’t know if I would have gone to the clothing closet and attempted to get some clothes for an interview or even had an interview.
And I actually saw him just yesterday and he was grinning from ear to ear. He’s been working, and he was just smiling, and I thought “oh my god, that is the same guy that I saw months ago but with all of his teeth now.” They were just bright and shiny. And, every time I see him I think about that because I see him in the community and yeah, it touched me. It gave me hope in people.
Any thoughts or parting words you’d like share?
I would say that Central City Concern has really helped me. It opened up my eyes to see the community of where I came from to the community of where I want to be. It’s opened my eyes to get back into school. This will be the first time, my going to college. It’s helped me to bring it all together to know what I want to do with my life. Being able to talk to people about their job or how they got there and me wanting what they have. I didn’t used to think that way but seeing how many people have walked the same life that I’ve walked and now look at them; so successful. That’s my parting words.