COLORADO SPRINGS. Working full time at a homeless center in Boulder was not how Hannah McReavy envisioned spending the last months of her sophomore year at college. In February, McReavy, who graduated from St. Mary’s High School in 2018, was at Providence College in Rhode Island; a month later, she was in Boulder, where her parents now live, finishing the semester virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online classes leaving her with time on her hands, McReavy started looking for ways to help. She had volunteered at the Marian House during her years at St. Mary’s High School, and had done other volunteer work in Boulder, but had not worked extensively with the homeless community. As she sifted through the volunteer opportunities in Boulder, she was drawn to the COVID-19 recovery center for the homeless.
“I’m in the age group that is least at risk and I felt I needed to do something to help,” Mc- Reavy said. “When I started, I thought I would just be helping out, instead it’s become a fulltime job.”
McReavy is working 40-hours per week at the COVID recovery center, sometimes working the night shift. Patients at the recovery center are referred there by the Boulder shelter system. The site used is a local recreation center, so the accommodations provided are simply cots placed throughout the building as well as makeshift common areas. McReavy said when the patients arrive at the center, they are given a medical checkup, and those who exhibit extreme symptoms are referred to the hospital. But even some of those who are severe enough to be hospitalized, often do not want to be transferred to the hospital, McReavy said, due to the burden of hospital costs. Those who test positive and remain at the center are placed in a room together in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. The patients receive general medical care, are given pain relievers to help with symptoms, get laundry done, have access to showers, receive regular meals and most importantly have time to rest.
“There is a stigma to working with the homeless; it’s not as glamorous as other opportunities, but they are the ones who need help the most,” she said. “Taking this opportunity has been one of the riskiest yet best decisions I’ve ever made.”
The work has changed McReavy — both how she thinks about the homeless and what she hopes to do with her future. Meeting people from all walks of life at the center has been eye opening, McReavy said. Since the residents at the center stay for two weeks to a month, the staff is able to fully engage with them, an opportunity that McReavy is thankful for, giving her the chance to form new relationships with people she never imagined she would.
“One of our patients was coming down from heroin and hallucinating throughout the night. I stayed by his bedside for hours, letting him know it was going to be alright,” she said. “That was not something I had ever witnessed before, but I learned that people are people and no one should be going through hard times alone.”
This new understanding of the plight of the homeless has changed McReavy’s plans for the future. A psychology major, minoring in neuroscience, McReavy said she now hopes to work with the homeless community, providing the much needed mental health services to the underserved community. McReavy will continue her studies at the University of Colorado- Boulder this fall working toward that goal.
As she looks to the future, McReavy said it was her past — specifically teachings learned at St. Mary’s High School — that influenced her taking the position at the recovery center. It was in Father Joe Dygert’s junior theology class that McReavy delved into the teaching on how the basic moral test of society is shown in its care of those who are poor and vulnerable. And what she has witnessed at the center has both strengthened and deepened her faith.
“As a follower of Christ and member of the Catholic church, one of my biggest responsibilities is to help those in need,” she said. “This experience has humanized that aspect of the faith for me. I’ve seen how vulnerable people can be and have come to understand that all those who are vulnerable in our community are still human with the same dignity as everyone else, no matter what label is placed on them.”
The love of the community evidenced in the number of volunteers who have turned out to help at the center has deepened her faith as well. The fact that people want to help and choose to selfl essly give shows love and care for others, putting the faith into action.
“We had this wonderful man with us for two weeks. We called him ‘God Bless Man’ because anytime we helped him, he would say ‘God Bless,” she said. “He was truly grateful for the help he was receiving. Each time he said ‘God Bless’ it reminded me that this is what God wants and what Jesus taught us to do.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)