Last March, within the first minute of my phone interview with Mary Golek, the office manager at the Burlington DISMAS House, a casual compliment about my immaculate grasp of spoken English confirmed that I was in for an interesting and unforgettable ten weeks volunteering at 96 Buell Street. Several months of anticipation later, the eight hours spent traversing the Atlantic Ocean were filled with apprehensive excitement and intrigue which no amount of peanut snack bags could distract me from. How would the residents take to me? What would my room be like? Where exactly did Mary think I was from?
Upon arrival in Burlington, the bold colour scheme of the DISMAS house ensured I found it with ease and I quickly came to discover that the personalities of the people residing within the four walls were just as vibrant and welcoming as the exterior paint job. Over the course of the summer I came to view the residents and staff not as a group of strangers but as a community of support that I feel privileged to have been a part of.
I am grateful for all of the countless highlights and memories the experience of living at DISMAS has provided, and of all of them, it is the day-to-day small victories of the house collective which I will remember most fondly: a timely post-dinner visit to the front porch from Rocky—everybody’s favourite garbage consuming neighbourhood squirrel—or Team One guessing that ridiculously impossible five-letter-word while playing Catch-phrase around the camp fire during the retreat to Kettle Pond.
I return to England sporting a belly stuffed with exquisitely cooked volunteer dishes, an impressive tan from my hours battling weeds in the front yard, a slight American accent and, most importantly, a head filled with inspiration, fed by the respect I have for all who contribute to the DISMAS mission and those who are experiencing a stretch of transition and reconciliation in their lives.
– Ritchie, a Volunteer For Peace from England