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Q&A: Shelter volunteer up all night, sleeps all day

Added on Friday, March 7, 2014

The Williston Salvation Army has struck volunteer gold – Tony Walters, a 28-year-old U.S. Army veteran who has sacrificed his sleep schedule to help others in need.

Walters volunteers for Project Heat – a new transitional shelter operated by the Williston Salvation Army and New Hope Church. The program allows up to 10 homeless men to sleep in a modular home, located in a man camp on the outskirts of Williston.

Every night of Project Heat requires six volunteers, four of whom must help out during the wee hours of the night. Walters is one of those four, and he does it a full five nights a week.

“We are extremely grateful for Tony and the amount of time he donates to us – finding volunteers has been difficult because Project Heat operates when most of Williston is asleep,” said Captain Joshua Stansbury, Williston Salvation Army administrator.

Walters was kind enough to answer our questions about why he volunteers for Project Heat, what it’s like, and why people should join him.

How many times have you volunteered for Project Heat?

I started volunteering the first night of Project Heat – Feb. 10. The first two weeks, I volunteered every night. Now I volunteer five nights on, two nights off.

How did you hear about Project Heat?

I had felt a tug on my heart to do something to help the homeless in Williston, so I talked to Pastor Chris at New Hope Wesleyan Church one Sunday and found out that he and Captain Josh were trying to get Project Heat going. Pastor Chris told me, “If you have a heart for the homeless and if you have time, you can do whatever you would like to be involved in this project.”

Why did you want to help?

Since I don’t have a job, I thought, “Why don’t I stay up there at night and sleep during the day?” It was a push from God to get me out and use me. It puts a smile on my face to see these guys have something to look forward to and a place to stay. It makes me feel good.

How has it gone so far?

I feel like it is going amazing. To see these guys walk through the door at night with a smile on their face, and to leave in the morning with a smile on their face, to know them by name and for them to know me by name – it’s incredible. There are 10 guys here tonight – that’s 10 more friends that I now have. These guys are grateful, they have good hearts. They don’t feel like they deserve it. They understand that it’s a service and that people are trying to help them. That’s a good thing.

Have you experienced any memorable moments?

I get to learn where the guests came from and what they’re trying to do here in Williston. Some of these guys have … traveled the world to try to build a life and get on their feet. It’s hard to believe they are in Williston, North Dakota looking for a life. As far as stand-out moments, when these guys come through the door at night and are happy to see you, that’s probably the best part about it.

What else would you like to say about Project Heat?

We need more people to help out with Project Heat.  It’s hard to tell someone who has a full time job and a family at home to give up a few hours in the middle of the night to come out here. I can’t place this ministry on someone’s heart, but we definitely need more people to help spread out the workload a little bit. There are plenty of women who are volunteering at Project Heat. It’s not a dangerous situation – there are a lot of people around if something happened. It’s no more dangerous than going grocery shopping.

Would you recommend others to get involved with Project Heat?

Absolutely! The more people who get involved, the better. The more volunteers we have, the less stress on each of the volunteers. It doesn’t take any special skills to do this. We have the same people on the schedule all the time, and these people have jobs and busy lives. They really are giving a part of themselves to do this as often as they are. It’s a huge blessing to volunteer – you’re not just blessing other people, you’re being blessed at the same time. We have the opportunity as volunteers to sit and fellowship; sometimes we talk about God for hours. That’s one of the best parts of it - meeting the volunteers and learning about who they are.

Learn more about being a Project Heat volunteer.