Since the spring of 2015, members of the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine have been devoting one Friday evening each month to residents of Tender Mercies in Over-the-Rhine.
A United Way agency, Tender Mercies provides housing and related services to homeless people with histories of emotional and/or mental disabilities. The agency serves 160 individuals at any given time.
In late 2014 Brett Kissela, MD, MS, professor and the Albert Barnes Voorheis Chair, proposed that the department, an integral part of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, embark on an ongoing volunteer project. The effort would be coordinated by Robert Neel, MD, associate professor and director of the UC Health ALS Clinic.
Neel and Christina Vest, a nurse practitioner, surveyed the faculty and considered various volunteer opportunities. “Tender Mercies came up as a really good program,” says Neel, who had volunteered there while in college and medical school. “They have so many needs: food for residents, paper supplies, toiletries that we take for granted.”
That month Neel, Vest and another colleague did a test run, going down to the agency with food for 60 residents of Tender Mercies’ Harkavy Hall. The program proved to be a good fit, and Neel now regularly organizes volunteers, who sign up to work together in small teams.
The teams include groups from the Mood Disorders Center, the Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, and the Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis. Administrative staff, researchers and neurology residents-in-training also participate.
“It’s a nice way to bond,” Neel says.
Some volunteers bring food they have cooked themselves. Others purchase food from a grocery store or carryout.
The experience has been rewarding for the Tender Mercies residents as well as for the volunteers. “This is a marginalized community,” Neel says. “They are very grateful. I like it when members of our department sit with the residents and just talk. There is a sense that we’re all just people.”
“We are so blessed, and nothing is more rewarding than being able to share our blessings with others,” says Laura Hergert, a volunteer who is executive assistant to Kissela.
Says Maggie Baker, a volunteer and the department’s program manager: “I am so thankful to be a member of a department that has provided a great way for its employees to help others in need within our community.”
— Cindy Starr