At Conference, UMFS and Open Table Celebrate Growing Partnership
February 15, 2018
Open Table is a grassroots, global movement that aims to connect individuals in need with long-term, faith-based support. Open Table has been operating for 13 years, and its partnership with UMFS has been up and running since February 2016.
On Wednesday, about 100 people from the faith community and government agencies across Virginia joined together at the UMFS Richmond campus for the first Open Table Conference. The conference featured expert speakers from social and healthcare spheres, as well as emotional testimonials and heartfelt accounts of transformation from both volunteers in the Open Table program and those who have been served by the program.
The Open Table model is simple: as many as a dozen volunteers comprise a Table and work together to provide complete care and unwavering support to a person or family experiencing economic and/or relational poverty. Those who are served by the Table are referred to as Brother or Sister, and they face any number of challenges, from aging out of foster care to mental health issues.
The Open Table commitment, on the other hand, is not quite as simple. Volunteers pledge to a minimum of one year, and they gather at least once-weekly with the Table’s Brother or Sister. As one Open Table volunteer put it during a roundtable discussion: “If you’re looking to stroke a check and make everything better, this isn’t for you.”
Rachelle Butler, the UMFS Senior Project Manager who oversees the partnership with Open Table, said the ultimate goal should be to “wrap families with a system of care.”
“We’re trying to facilitate a natural support system,” Rachelle said. She continued by stressing how important it is for communities to take care of their neighbors. “What would our communities look like if we shared our skills with neighbors in need,” she asked. The answer for one Sister currently being served by a Table was pretty simple.
“The people on my Table are the first people I have trusted who haven’t ever done anything wrong to me,” she said. Her outlook on community is indeed much brighter than it had been in the past. Speaking nervously but with confidence, the Sister shared with the crowd much of the adversity she had faced early in life. And much of that adversity, she said, followed her into adulthood. “I needed a little help to break free from the trap I was in.”
Testimonials such as these are a powerful reminder of the hardships that some have endured. It was discussed many times throughout the conference that people in precarious situations often end up there not by choice but by circumstance. And it’s for reasons such as this that Open Table exists.
There is no blame and no shame in the program, organizers say, and the focus is 100 percent on what the Brother or Sister needs, as opposed to what the volunteers think the Brother or Sister might need.