Stories : Sherry Williamson

Relationships that bind

My work with the core members changes my outlook on the world itself, how we should treat other people, how we live our faith. It’s extremely uplifting to see people who look as if they’re so disadvantaged yet have such a joyful and positive outlook on life.

Volunteer Jacksonville’s 2008 Faith in Action award recipient Sherry Williamson learned about L’Arche Harbor House through a personal tie. “My aunt went to live at L’Arche when my grandparents died,” she explains. “Most of the 10 years she was a core member there, I had small children and couldn’t be very involved. Then Mary became terminally ill, and I began visiting every day. I got to know the assistants and core members. They were so supportive and made my aunt so happy that her passing was a beautiful thing. When Mary died in December 2000, surrounded by people she loved and who loved her so much, the experience touched me deeply. I decided that’s what I wanted to do: be a part of it.”

Sherry, a former CPA, volunteered to help with bookkeeping. The office was in the same building as the Rainbow Workshop, a L’Arche Harbor House day program where adults with developmental disabilities express their creativity through arts and crafts. “From my vantage point in the office, I could see that it was a lot more fun in there. Even though I did not have specific skills for working with the core members, I saw that there were things I could do. So I was able to get out of accounting and into the Rainbow. I started in January of 2001, and have been volunteering there ever since.”

Inside a modest concrete block house in a working-class Jacksonville neighborhood, the Rainbow Workshop is a colorful jumble of handmade greeting cards, glass mosaics, painted ceramics and watercolors laid out to dry. Most days of the week, Sherry helps the artists manipulate clay, wield paint brushes or mix paint. She also assists them with life skills like helping to prepare lunch. Most all, she says, her job is about building relationships.

“Without volunteers, we wouldn’t have opportunities for one-on-one interaction,” she explains. “If it’s arts and crafts or whatever, what the core members seem to appreciate most is having a friend. I find that even though you know what the purpose of L’Arche is, until you’re there beside them, it’s easy to lose sight of it.” Her time at the Rainbow brings Sherry great personal fulfillment. “They constantly remind me of what we’re all about. I help them, and I have found that these moments are also when I learn the most. When I’m with core members one-on-one, they teach me about the way we should all be living our lives.”