Volunteer Kathy O’Brien: Creating Community through Multi-Decade Commitment to Giving Back
April 13, 2023
April is Global Volunteer Month, a time to celebrate everyone who is working to make a positive difference in their communities. This month, we’ll be shining a spotlight on the heartbeat of St. Anthony’s – our incredible volunteers. We want to recognize the 4,000+ volunteers we depend on annually to make our work possible uplifting those most in need 365 days a year.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised on the East Coast, and then moved to San Francisco in 1980, so I’ve been here for a long, long time. I’m a retired social worker, and I worked at several of the hospitals doing inpatient social work. In 1995, I joined San Francisco General Hospital, where I directed an outpatient program that worked with frequent utilizers of the medical emergency services. It was an integrated case management program, with medical, psychiatric health, psycho-social health, and substance abuse counseling, so we did it all within the same team at this program. I still occasionally see some of my clients from that program who will come through the line here in the Dining Room. I did that for 21 years, and I retired in 2016.
Why did you start volunteering?
I love the mission of St. Anthony’s and was certainly familiar with these programs when I was a social worker and would often refer clients here. We often brought interns to St. Anthony’s when we were introducing them to the various services available in the city. And, they really enjoyed the experience of having lunch here with the guests. This was back when St. Anthony’s Dining Room was located in a former auto body shop.
I first started volunteering occasionally for holidays, and that would have been ten or 11 years ago. Then when I retired, I started helping more regularly on a weekly basis.
I just love St. Anthony’s. I love the staff. I love the philosophy. I love the guests.
What keeps you volunteering at St. Anthony’s?
I just love St. Anthony’s. I love the staff. I love the philosophy. I love the guests. I’m always impressed by the mission to serve good healthy food. Having done this now on a weekly basis, I really enjoy seeing guests over and over again that I have this connection to.
How has volunteering inspired you?
It fulfills the interest in giving back to the community and being of service. I also really enjoy the other volunteers, so it’s a fun way to spend time and serve with a sense of joy and connection.
Of St. Anthony’s Five Values (Community, Gratitude, Healing, Personalism, Justice), is there one that stands out most to you?
Community comes to mind first. I think St. Anthony’s is such a tight community even though people change in different roles, and it attempts to foster a good sense of community. The fact that the foundation is consistent with its services, broadening services to guests, what St. Anthony’s has done is remarkable.
It speaks to trying to rectify the injustices in society, the incredible disparity in terms of wealth and poverty in the city, and I think St. Anthony’s does a lot of thinking about how do we really reach the people in need.
St. Anthony Foundation offers several volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups. For more information about volunteering, click the link HERE, and to view volunteer opportunities, click HERE.