I know what they’re going through, so that’s how I like to give back.  

Experience Creates Both Empathy and Effectiveness

Amber Lichty is quietly confident as she describes her role volunteering at CSS’s Lurana Shelter. She’s sitting at a table in MacEwan University’s food court between the classes that will ultimately qualify her as a fulltime social worker. Her long road to this point has given her the focus and commitment to give back to a community that has helped her move forward.

“At first I was volunteering at different places to get the required hours for my program,” she said. “I have all my hours now, but I wanted to continue at the same place because I love helping people, giving back to the community. I enjoy the staff there, so I’m staying.”

Amber has volunteered for a children’s literacy program and at other well-known agencies; she still stays in touch with the staff there, but Lurana Shelter has a specific emotional pull for her.

“I like being at Lurana because I was in a second stage shelter myself five years ago. I know what they’re going through, so that’s how I like to give back.”

Amber stayed at a Greater Edmonton shelter a few years ago, where she received the counselling, therapy and guidance she needed after leaving an abusive relationship. Volunteering at Lurana keeps her connected with the best parts of a family’s new situation.

“I like to see the kids’ faces – they're so happy that they’re starting their new life. It’s a very hopeful time in their lives.”

Like Amber, most potential volunteers lead busy lives already, but places like Lurana Shelter can be accommodating for those who can only volunteer during unusual time slots.

“They’re open 24 hours a day, and they’re very flexible when your availability is limited,” Amber said. “They’re really helpful, and just really nice people. Volunteering here is an opportunity to meet new people, and I enjoy that.”

Her personal experience has been an asset as she works with clients at the shelter. In some cases, committing to maintaining the house rules helps maintain the boundaries that ensure everyone’s safety and happiness.

“You have to be nice, but firm sometimes,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me because I know where they’re coming from. I know how they feel. Once you’re out of a bad situation you get the time and perspective to realize that, no, that wasn’t safe or normal.”

Amber’s own story proves that shelters like Lurana turn lives around. The social support she received in the past is coming full circle as she turns herself into a source of hope and support for others. Right now, Amber serves others as a volunteer, but in the future?

“I could see myself working at a place like that in the future.”