24 years of volunteering at St. Joseph house of hospitality
Each Friday morning, Alexis Weber RN, MSN brings treats for “her guys” living at St. Joseph House of Hospitality in the Hill District area of Pittsburgh, Pa. The 60-room home for the homeless, or “marginalized” as she prefers, was founded in 1937. “Every time I come I bring treats. And I bring treats because I’m Polish. Polish people with baked goods. “It is a symbol of love and they love it. They absolutely love it.”
Alexis has been a volunteer at St. Joseph House of Hospitality for the past 24 years. She provides health assessments, monitors blood pressure and blood glucose levels, assesses feet and teeth, and listens to their stories. Alexis visited St. Gregory in Upper St. Clair, Pa. Dec. 10 to tell her own story of deciding to be a volunteer. The event was sponsored by the church’s Bethany Ministry.
She explained there are many types of marginalization which cause people to live on the “fringes” of society. They include class, race, education, living standards, disabilities, drug and alcohol abuse, and the elderly. She asked parishioners at the presentation to think about what they do when seeing someone standing on the side of the road with a sign stating “need money.” “Do you give the money or not give them money?” she asked. “I see that person as Christ. I am giving that person a gift. Now, when you give a gift to your family members, do you tell them what to spend it on? No. So, why would I do that? “I grab their hand and ask God to bless them and to care for them.”
Alexis served as a nurse and director of the School of Nursing at St. Francis Health System’s hospital in Lawrenceville from 1990 to 2002. She was director of UPMC Mercy’s School of Nursing from 2008 to 2014. Alexis was recognized by Catholic Charities as Volunteer of the Year in 2014, selected from among 300,000 volunteers nationally. She said her journey was part of a continuing struggle to get off the “treadmill” of success in her professional life. “I think there is a piece of every one of us waiting to be called. We just need to open up and see where God will take us.”
After seeing an advertisement in a newspaper for a volunteer nurse at St. Joseph, she decided to call. She bought herself a white lab coat and stethoscope for her first day. “I sat there for three hours and no one came. Not one soul put their head in that door to look at me,” she said. “It took me the longest time to realize one of the basic issues for homeless is trust. They didn’t know me…I ripped that white coat off and ripped off that stethoscope and slowly but surely they began to come. It took them forever to come. Because they were afraid what they said to me would be taken to someone else.
“So, I started a 24-year-old love affair and I call it a ‘love affair’ with my guys. They are my guys. Sixty of them.” At St. Joseph, she said, men get a private toom with a key, sometimes for the first time in their lives. “That key is freedom for them. Men take ownership of the building, working the front desk, gardening and cleaning.
“As long as they try to staysober, as long as they don’t cause any difficulty, they can stay at St. Joseph’s = forever.” St. Joseph reflects the values of Dorothy Day, one of Alexis’ heroes, and her House of Hospitality in New York.
“St. Joseph is an amazing place.” Alexis said Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the “gold standard” to her eye. “She gave up everything to go and work with the poor. She is an amazing individual but not all of us can be Teresa of Calcutta. “We need to love each other more and judge less. We can’t judge. We just need to extend our hand and help.” Alexis knows why she can never forsake her volunteer work.
“I prayed and I know I can never give it up because it is a gift from God. To give it up would be slapping Him in the face and saying, ‘I don’t want your gift anymore.’ “I just can’t imagine not seeing my guys.”