Inspiring Volunteer Leads By Example

When guests walk into the St. Vincent de Paul Center Client Choice Food Pantry on Thursdays, there is nothing noticeably out of the ordinary. They see a friendly young man with a big smile at a computer, checking in other guests, and sending them on their way to shop for groceries in the Client Choice Food Pantry that reduce the meal gap households experience. When it’s their turn to check-in, they notice there’s nothing ordinary about the young man at all. In fact, there is something extraordinary about him.

Ben Gershon is a long-serving volunteer at Marillac St. Vincent, assisting individuals, families, and seniors in accessing food items that meet their household needs through the St. Vincent de Paul Center Client Choice Food Pantry. Through his conversations, attentiveness, and disposition, Ben makes everyone feel welcomed, appreciated, and known during their time receiving food. Ben does all this despite developmental disabilities, including a profound speech impairment.

Ben Gershon is one of Marillac St. Vincent's longest-serving Client Choice Food Pantry volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul Center

Ben began volunteering as an intern 4 years ago through the Path to Academics, Community and Employment (P.A.C.E) post-secondary certificate program at National Louis University (NLU). The program is designed to meet the transitional needs for young adults with multiple intellectual, learning and developmental disabilities.

In summer 2015, Ben sought a summer internship placement because he wanted to continue his skill development throughout summer vacation from P.A.C.E. This led Ben to Marillac St. Vincent Family Services. St. Vincent de Paul Center hosted their first P.A.C.E. intern during the 2014-2015 school year. St. Vincent de Paul Center was identified by P.A.C.E. as a natural fit for an internship for Ben because of the support and skill development opportunities.

Through his conversations, attentiveness, and disposition, Ben makes everyone feel welcome, appreciated, and known during their time receiving food

Any internship placement involves extensive onboarding and training, especially when the role requires working alongside a diverse client population with differing needs. Ben is a champion in this area, leading by example. Ben trains, coaches, and supports all new interns and volunteers in the St. Vincent de Paul Center Client Choice Food Pantry.

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap Study, one in seven people in Cook County will experience food insecurity this year. Individuals experiencing hunger, food insecurity, or limited access to nutritious food, find themselves in a vulnerable position. Ben’s approach to serving the needs of these individuals through positive gestures, humor, and genuine care, has the effect of easing that vulnerability. Ben’s explanation for his success as a communicator is simple: “I like people.”

Ben (center, left) pictured with volunteers and Community Outreach Services staff before opening the food pantry to guests

Ben’s commitment to be effective in a role that requires significant communication, without the use of language, demonstrates that individuals living with disabilities possess the skills, talent, and leadership to meaningfully contribute to their communities. For Marillac St. Vincent, that means meeting the needs of hundreds of households served at the St. Vincent de Paul Center Client Choice Food Pantry each year, with humor and compassion.

Ben Gershon was recently nominated by Marillac St. Vincent Family Services for 2019 Governor’s Service Awards. MSV is tremendously proud of Ben, his service, and the opportunity to nominate him for this award.

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