Food Assistance Navigator and AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Kathleen Ferrick dissuses the partnership between Hunger Free Colorado and the Denver Department of Human Services and the effect this is having on those applying for SNAP and other federal benefits.
Over the past 4 months, I have gained valuable insight regarding the experience of applying for SNAP and other federal public benefits programs in Denver, CO. As a VISTA serving at Hunger Free Colorado, my greatest focus has been upon increasing access to SNAP, specifically through supervising volunteers working at the Denver Department of Human Services. In 2011, a unique partnership was created between Hunger Free Colorado and the Denver Department of Human Services with the goal of recruiting and training volunteers to help people applying for SNAP and other federal public benefits.
After months of planning, the first volunteer started working in the lobby at the Denver Department of Human Services Castro Building in December of 2011. Since I began my year-long VISTA, term I have spent a great amount of time at the Castro Building learning the ropes in order to effectively expand the volunteer program. Along with my fellow Hunger Free Colorado VISTA Tess, I have encountered incredibly diverse situations experienced by people waiting in the Castro Building lobby. During our training sessions with volunteers, we are kept busy helping fill out applications, answering questions, and informing people about SNAP and food resources offered by Hunger Free Colorado. Suffice it to say that over the course of a few hours, our volunteers are presented with countless learning opportunities.
Although the atmosphere at the Castro Building can often be chaotic, volunteers frequently express their enthusiasm regarding the work they do. Because it can be very daunting for people unfamiliar with the programs and processes, volunteers are in a position to make the experience far easier. Particularly for those navigating a language barrier, having a volunteer who is either bilingual or available to use the provided telephone translation service makes an enormous difference for that client.
One specific example of this particular aspect of the volunteer program occurred just a few days ago while I was training a new volunteer. The volunteer overheard an Amharic-speaking woman trying to communicate her situation to a Castro Building staff member. The volunteer stepped in and started communicating with the woman in Amharic and was able to translate for the Castro Building staff member. It turned out the issue was very simple and took about 5 minutes to resolve, thanks of course to the brand new volunteer. It was quite a serendipitous occurrence considering that the staff member had been on hold waiting for an Amharic-speaking translator when the volunteer walked by. Needless to say, all parties (including myself) were delighted by how perfectly the situation ended up working out. I left the Castro Building that day feeling particularly appreciative for having the opportunity to be a part of this incredibly valuable program.