How many times have you seen a homeless person on the street, clothing in rags, face lined with fatigue, and thought, “that’s so sad. I should do something,” only to move on with your day and forget? Too often we overlook the importance of giving back to the community and to those in need because we are not sure how we can help, where or when. Janice Davis, administrative assistant of Elizabethtown College’s Department of Biology, didn’t just walk by, she took action. After she and husband, Skip, saw the need for homeless services in Elizabethtown, Davis got to work on starting a winter shelter for the community. These actions and her for her efforts with the homeless were the inspiration behind her receipt of the 2016 National Association of Social Workers’ Public Citizen of the Year award.
“The reason she got this award is because she was so passionate about it. Nothing stopped her. No matter what problem was put in front of her, she just plowed through it,” said Margaret McFarland during an interview. With pride for her now-friend, the Elizabethtown College professor of social work explained how Davis saw people who had never been homeless before in their lives or were victims of domestic violence and acted on it. “We saw people who were totally embarrassed of being there, and we had to open our arms to them to make them feel comfortable,” McFarland said about the acts of colleague.
This is “Educate for Service” at its best.”
Davis became instrumental in forming Elizabethtown Community Housing and Outreach Service organization (ECHOS). ECHOS aids and assists families and individuals facing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness and are seeking help. The shelter was formed with the intent of keeping locals in Elizabethtown. “Finding ways to keep them here in their community … was really important,” said Davis in an interview. “Walking along side folks and knowing we had the resources to help them … has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
The award winner said she had to learn overnight what social workers learn over years. She figured out that she could call churches and ask them to partner with ECHOS when homeless individuals came to the churches for assistance. She scrambled to hire case managers to help oversee and set goals, find a location for the shelter, contact housing support and secure the resources to provide clothing, food and other necessities.
It took 50 volunteers a week to help run the shelter last winter. Davis, herself, worked full time at E-town in the biology department, then worked at night to assist shelter guests. Davis’ constant and unwavering dedication to the success of the winter shelter in Elizabethtown showed her passion, McFarland said, and earned her the nomination, which ultimately led to winning the humanitarian award.
“She didn’t do it for the money or because somebody was telling her to; she did it just from her heart. She’s a very quiet person,” McFarland said. “When she found about this award she didn’t want the attention.”
Davis talked highly of the amount of people it takes to help run and keep ECHOS going. “I’m very humbled and honored,” she said. “There’s so many people that made this happen. … I may be the person receiving [the award], but everyone else earned it too.”
As for future goals for the shelter, Davis and McFarland spoke of the hopes of having a permanent building for their shelter to run year-round. They also wish to involve the Elizabethtown College community in the workings of the shelter. “This is our school motto. This is “Educate for Service” at its best.” McFarland said.
ECHOS offers the opportunity for student volunteers to work hands-on with clients, and it would not be limited to those interested in social work. “I see that this could encompass so many different departments here–the education department helping with children’s needs, the business department doing the taxes …. Publicizing and getting things out is so important.”
Davis receives the humanitarian award at the National Association of Social Workers conference Oct. 8, in the company of students and faculty members from the Department of Social Work.