Kelly Ross enjoys volunteering at West Broadway Community Ministry's drop-in because as much as he gives, he also gets a lot in return.
"It's opened up a lot of doors and helped me feel that I'm not alone," said Ross, who likens the camaraderie among the volunteers to a family.
Ross is one of 40 volunteers at the drop-in, which is run by four part-time staff. Located in the Crossways in Common building on Furby Street, the drop-in serves lunch four days a week and helps people living in poverty by advocating for them.
"It's an honour and a privilege to be able to do this, considering where I've come from."
The 48-year-old was in a dark place before he started volunteering. The oldest of five children, he began abusing solvents at the age of six. At the age of seven, he watched his father shoot his mother before turning the gun on himself.
Ross's parents both survived, but he soon found himself living on the streets. He has battled drug addiction and spent time in prison, and takes medication for depression and post-traumatic stress.
In 2009, Ross started volunteering at West Broadway. He cleans windows, washes floors, clears tables and helps in the kitchen.
"When I first got here, I was pretty lost mentally, physically and spiritually," he said. "I didn't feel hopeful about anything."
Today, the community he has found at the drop-in has helped him find balance in his life. Ross has also been able to reduce his medication.
"It's an honour to work here. I don't feel judged or condemned for my personal life," he said. "I've seen a lot of good things happen."
Ross is in a unique position to help the people he serves, said Lynda Trono, the community minister at West Broadway.
"People here come from difficult lives," Trono said. "They're survivors. They're resilient. Kelly is someone who knows what that's like, and he's able to listen and be a friend. He exudes peace."
Trono added that Ross is a person of integrity.
"When people have led a very hard life, sometimes it's hard for them to muster up kindness, but Kelly is able to do that," she said. "He's a good guy."
Ross said he tries to be a role model to the people at the drop-in. Someday, he hopes to work professionally with people who struggle with addiction or mental illness.
"If anybody is wanting to change their life and find a caring environment... I highly recommend West Broadway Community Ministry," Ross said. "It doesn't matter where you come from. If you're willing to put in the footwork, people are willing to help."
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