Milka Ayob guides Fayho Amin through high school math Feb. 16 at Kateri Park. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Milka Ayob guides Fayho Amin through high school math Feb. 16 at Kateri Park. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
The social service pros at Catholic Charities of Oregon extend their ministry by continuously welcoming a crew of hearty volunteers. Each month on average, about 100 unpaid workers happily help out in agency programs.

“Without them, our program staff would be way overextended,” said Claire Greene, who coordinates volunteers of all kinds for Catholic Charities programs.

Greene, herself an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, filled a position created because staff were feeling overwhelmed by large caseloads. Greene writes job descriptions, recruits volunteers and leads orientation for good-hearted people who admire Catholic Charities’ work and want to be part of the team. The volunteers come in all ages, from elders who tutor immigrants to high schoolers serving food at client Christmas gatherings.

One of the largest pods of volunteers tutors youngsters at Kateri Park, the Catholic Charities housing community off Southeast 28th and Powell that is home to many immigrant families. The pandemic curtailed sessions, but meetings started up again last month.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, volunteer Marla Munnich played a card game that teaches numbers and days of the week with ?????. The two laughed while they competed and learned.

“I like working with kids,” said Munnich as she lay down a winning card to ????’s temporary chagrin.

At another table, ????? helped ???? with high school math. ???? seemed eager to learn from ????, a ????.

Ayan Muhemed, an intern from the Portland State University social work school, runs the homework club. Children of immigrants can fall behind in reading, she said. She hopes they catch up and advance in other subjects, but also wants them to feel a sense of belonging and form relationships with each other and with the mentors, whom Muhemed sees as the backbone of the program.

“The volunteers mean everything,” said Muhemed. “Without them, we can’t do anything.”

Another up-and-coming Catholic Charities volunteer job is tending the food pantry at the nonprofit’s main offices off Powell Boulevard.

Volunteers also are key to the operation of Kenton Women’s Village in North Portland. Home to women working their way out of homelessness by residing in tidy tiny houses, Kenton needs volunteer gardeners and cooks who can make meals for the little community. At Kenton, the volunteering includes plenty of chatting with residents and the formation of relationships that benefit all involved.

Students from Catholic schools, where community service is required, help out at big holiday events for Catholic Charities’ staff and clients.

Greene said she hopes to create a long-lasting and smooth-running volunteer system at Catholic Charities, including seasonal and regular volunteer groups. She imagines a newsletter to stay in touch with volunteers.

Jen Toohey is a human resources expert at Catholic Charities who places full-time formal volunteers like Greene. Toohey is in touch with program directors who tell her what they need; she tries to fulfill the wishes via AmeriCorps and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. For such full time volunteers, Catholic Charities and the sponsor organization share costs.