Volunteering at the Men's Residential Center: An Inside Look

Volunteering at the Men's Residential Center: An Inside Look 

by Alexander Johnson

Two years ago, Rob Delahanty decided to move to Portland. The money he earned as a professional photographer could no longer pay his rent in New York City, and Portland seemed like a nice place to go. He had a sister here, and he knew his way around. Moving his stuff across the country wouldn’t be too difficult, but how could Rob transplant the recovery from alcohol abuse which he had started in New York?

“When you get there, do service work,” his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor told him before he left.

Shortly after his arrival in Portland, he went to an A A meeting at the Men's Residential Center (MRC), an intensive residential treatment program serving the Portland metro area. After the meeting, Rob went up to the front desk and said that he wanted to volunteer.

Volunteers are an integral part of the MRC team. Not only do they bring fresh ideas and perspectives, they also make work less stressful for the full-time staff and allow them to focus on individualizing treatment for the MRC clients. In 2009, 23 volunteers at MRC contributed nearly 4500 hours of volunteer work.

Volunteers also bring in their own expertise to help the clients through treatment. Every Monday, morning, a yoga teacher leads clients in yoga poses. And on Monday afternoons, a local chiropractic clinic provides free treatment to the clients.

Nancy Loso, VOA Oregon's Volunteer Resources Coordinator, speaks very highly of the volunteer program at the MRC. “I know when I make a referral to MRC that the volunteer will get quick follow-up, excellent training and supervision, and be welcomed into the program as an equal partner.”

After spending a few days volunteering, Rob Delahanty realized the potential for photography at the MRC. He proposed a photo project to his supervisor, Joe Kleinhenz, and the clients at the MRC. They agreed to let Rob follow them around and record their daily lives. Rob photographed a variety of their activities, including yoga, going to the zoo, and taking their daily walks around the neighborhood. He also took pictures of the men visiting their families and going fishing. In October 2009, Rob made an event out of showcasing the photographs. He set up a slide show and posted prints of the photographs throughout the MRC.

“The guys loved it,” Rob remembers.

Usually, a photograph captures a moment in time, but Rob’s photographs represented the men’s transition to sobriety.  The MRC participants were able to see themselves through another’s eyes at various parts of their journey to recovery – from their first day at the MRC, through the challenges of therapy to graduation.  Their progress throughout gave them a sense of pride and accomplishment.

But Rob’s work at the MRC is not limited to photography. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, he works at the front desk and wherever else he’s needed. He takes telephone calls and greets visitors, but he also spends time with the clients and helps them through one of the most difficult times in their lives. This might involve sitting and talking, or helping someone complete their morning chore.

“It really helps to help others,” Rob says. “It gets me out of my own head, and it helps my own sobriety. The pay-off is tenfold.”

Volunteering is rewarding, but it can be difficult, too. “There are times when I think, 'Maybe I'm not cut out for this,'” Rob says. “Sometimes the guys don't appreciate it. Sometimes I want to just up and quit, but I don't. I stay the course and just keep going.”

Rob is one of fifteen regular volunteers and one of three  Residential Counselors (RCs). RCs sit at the front desk and help out with a variety of tasks. The MRC also hosts students from Portland Community College and Portland State University who volunteer as interns and help out during counseling sessions. One of those interns used to be a client at the MRC. His name is Larone Polk.

When Larone enrolled at the MRC, he had no intention of stopping his alcohol abuse. He tried to use when he was given a social pass, and was eventually caught trying to drink during an MRC trip to a Mariner’s game. But getting caught turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

“I got a chance to really look at how I was fooling myself,” Larone says. “It made me completely aware of my addiction.”

Right now, he’s earning his Alcohol and Drug Counselor certification from Portland Community College and volunteering as one of eight MRC interns. He helps the counselors during treatment sessions, but more importantly, his presence shows that recovery and sobriety are possible.

 In addition to the interns and Residential Counselors, the MRC hosts a spiritual advisor and a Jesuit volunteer who coordinates recreation activities for the clients. For example, last year, six clients participated in a series of writing workshops offered by Write Around Portland, and their work was included in a compilation of pieces published at the end of the series.