Nancy Goh is among GLIDE’s most dedicated volunteers, a loving soul and an inspiring member of this community. Not only is she a regular in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program, but she has incorporated raising awareness and support for GLIDE into her passion for running. Below, Nancy reflects on the reciprocal nature of volunteering and the power of community-building through service.
My first volunteer shift was a Sunday lunch service.
I had just moved from New York City and was looking for something more than just a network in San Francisco, I was looking for community. I had volunteered at soup kitchens before but trying to find a high-impact volunteer opportunity in a big city was always tough when you only had a couple hours a week to contribute. Usually you had to fill out applications and commit to a certain amount of hours per week.
I come from a programs management and operations background, so I appreciate effective processes and good leadership. I was instantly impressed by the lead kitchen staff at GLIDE. They were so engaged and not only made sure everyone knew their role in the cafeteria but that everyone felt that their contributions were of equal importance. When you work in the corporate world for as long as I have, you see a lot of people who don’t love their job because they don’t find purpose in it. GLIDE was the opposite experience. I remember leaving my first volunteer shift heartened and humbled.
The second time I volunteered, Curtis assigned me the position of greeting people at the door and handing them utensils when they first enter the kitchen. It was very impactful for me. I admit that coming into this experience I, like many, had preconceived notions about people experiencing homelessness. But being in that kitchen, in a setting where everyone is considered equal and everyone deserves a delicious meal, deconstructed my prejudices. It was shocking to see the range of people in the meals line. It was then that I became an instant advocate for GLIDE.
I had been running for over ten years when I decided I wanted to run to raise awareness and support for GLIDE. I created a Go Fund Me page in 2019 with a list of all races I would run on behalf of GLIDE. In 2019, I completed two half-marathons and wore my GLIDE hat for each of them.
The more I volunteered at GLIDE, the more I felt a sense of community. It was the highlight of my weekends, walking into GLIDE and saying hello to the staff and volunteers. It brought a new regularity to my life that I didn’t have before. I met people with incredible stories working in the Meals program, many of whom were original recipients of these meals. I built beautiful connections with people I may have never had the pleasure of crossing paths with, like Lee. Lee had recently been released from San Quentin State Prison, where he was a runner in the 1,00 Mile Club. I had recently signed up to run the San Francisco Half Marathon and learned that Lee had too! In the weeks leading up to the marathon, Lee and I built a friendship based on our shared love of running, checking in with each other about how our training was coming along.
This is just one example of the sustainability model behind GLIDE’s Meals program. Access to a good meal can be the foundation for changing one’s livelihood. You start with giving someone something as basic as a meal and, while the impact doesn’t happen over night, the long-term results are the building of a community that continues to serve each other. ♥
It’s no secret that at GLIDE, we believe in love. We believe in radical, unstoppable, unconditional love. We also know that love manifests in as many ways as there are people in our community—people like Elena and Zach, two GLIDE interns who are helping to link hard-to-reach members of the community to harm reduction and HIV/Hep C services.
GLIDE Harm Reduction Peer Program: An entryway to connection, education and community
Recently, GLIDE’s Harm Reduction team initiated its first-ever Peer Program, managed by Outreach Coordinator Bill Buehlman. The purpose of the fledgling program is to provide internship opportunities to people who have struggled with substance use themselves, so that they can not only learn about harm reduction and direct service but, in turn, reach out to others in the community who are otherwise not receiving services—either because they get overlooked by other programs or they tend to distrust traditional service providers.
“We’re trying to engage people with lived experiences,” explains Bill, “active participants who want to do any level of service work.”
Bill serves as both a trainer and a mentor to participants in the Peer Program, who are usually people who currently use or have formerly used GLIDE’s harm reduction services.
“The people who are difficult to reach are the people we most want—especially with regard to Hep C testing, education and treatment. Seven out of 10 injection drug users in this city will test positive for Hep C antibodies. We are good at outreach, but that doesn’t mean we can reach everybody. That is part of what this program is about—using people within the community to navigate in there and help link folks to services.”
Elena and Zach arrived in San Francisco last year after many years of travel, and were immediately drawn to GLIDE’s Harm Reduction Program.
“With Zach and Elena,” reflects Bill, “they really want to be in this world of harm reduction.”
Harm reduction principles are founded on respect for individuals’ choices, and a deep understanding of the often winding and difficult road to recovery. The Peer Program reflects these values by operating with a compassionate and judgment-free approach.
“As long as they can show up and do the work, that is all that should matter. And that is what Zach and Elena have done, consistently, and it’s been unbelievable.”
Elena and Zach
Elena and Zach met in a park on a hot day in Oregon, while they were both travelling independently around the country. Elena is from a small town in northeastern Ohio, while Zach is from Texas.
“We feel very strongly that people deserve clean equipment and good health care. To be in a position where we can advocate for that is really amazing because no one was ever there to advocate for us.” — Zach
“It was really special. We were both backpacking separately across the country,” recounts Elena. “I saw him and he had a Grateful Dead tapestry, which is one of my favorite bands. I had just been in Washington mining for quartz and crystal, so I had a really big case of nice shiny rocks and gemstones. I showed them to him. It’s a really odd thing to be interested in. Not many people share a love of minerals! But he did too, and so we’ve been together ever since. That was three years ago.”
Through their shared interests in music and minerals, Elena and Zach formed a strong bond. Together they grew an extensive collection of gems.
“After we met, we made that our focus, and we went on mining expeditions while we were moving around the country. You can go in any national forest or Bureau of Land Management land and you’re legally allowed to remove seven to 20 pounds of minerals every day,” Elena explains. “We have the gift of gab, so we took our cases of rocks out on the sidewalk in any city we were at and sold them on the street.”
But when they arrived in San Francisco, Zach and Elena committed fully to volunteering at GLIDE. Today, they help run our Syringe Access Services, lead community outreach and needle sweeps, and were sponsored by GLIDE to become certified as Hep C/HIV test counselors.
“We were the first peers that Paul [Harkin, Director of GLIDE Harm Reduction Services] sent to become certified,” says Elena with justifiable pride.
“We’ve both had our fair share of experiences in places where there was no harm reduction,” adds Zach. “We feel very strongly that people deserve clean equipment and good health care. To be in a position where we can advocate for that is really amazing because no one was ever there to advocate for us. We’ve definitely needed these services, and we definitely used them all when we first got to San Francisco.
“We’ve since straightened our lives out in a different way, so we’re not using every day, but there was a point when we were using three, four, five times a day, coming here for supplies and hitting GLIDE up when they were on outreach.”
“The people around us are extremely supportive of what we’re going through, and that’s amazing. I couldn’t do it without them, and especially not without Zach.” — Elena
“Now, we’re actually providing the services that we used to come here to get ourselves. That really adds to our passion for it,” says Zach. “If it wasn’t for these guys, we wouldn’t have gotten the things we needed.”
Elena and Zach speak candidly but thoughtfully about their relationship with drugs over the years. Elena struggled with opioids for six years, and other substances before that.
“There were times when I was off and on, but there wasn’t any time when I was off that I wasn’t thinking about being on,” she says. “I’m dealing with 15 years of depression right now, in this time of transformation. The people around us are extremely supportive of what we’re going through, and that’s amazing. I couldn’t do it without them, and especially not without Zach.”
As for Zach, he has been injecting drugs for over three years, but says that he has been doing opiates since he was in his early teens.
“I remember a specific point in my youth when I decided to steal a bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of my dad’s closet. I was on opiates soon after that,” he explains. “I got addicted to drugs because I have problems that I’m trying to cope with.”
Now, Elena and Zach are studying for their Community Health Worker Certificate at the Community College of San Francisco (CCSF), and both intend to pursue BA degrees afterwards.
“I was concerned about going to school while homeless, but it’s been good. The teachers are supportive,” says Zach. “We are slowly moving forward in our lives.”
Elena plans to develop a strong application for UC Berkeley through her extensive harm reduction experience and CCSF coursework. Her goal is to have a profession in clinical research for an organization that focuses on the mental health benefits of controlled use of psychedelic medicines, such as psilocybin and MDMA.
“I’m interested in studies looking at these substances being used to treat depression and PTSD, and LSD being used for alcoholism and other disorders. The FDA is approving things that we never thought would be approved. That’s the field where I would like to see myself in eight to 10 years,” Elena says.
Zach wants to continue his education and work in harm reduction as well.
“I look forward to getting into a position where I can help troubled kids find their path and stay out of trouble because that is where I was when I was a kid. No one could relate to me, no one tried to relate to me. I really want to be that somebody that kids can relate to and help them find a good productive path,” he says.
As with any recovery journey, Zach and Elena’s love story is far from a fairytale. They have faced relapse. They are technically unhoused, currently living in a navigation center and unsure of where they will find a roof at the end of the month. And, while they thankfully have free tuition at CCSF, they still need to find affordable ways to access readings for their courses, purchase food and navigate complicated government systems to ensure they stay housed, healthy and safe.
Through all of this—years of substance use, mental health issues and financial insecurity—they have maintained their love for each other and for the community they serve. Their ongoing story is a testament to the power of unconditional love to not only transform individuals but whole communities and society at large. It is no small coincidence that harm reduction approaches are simultaneously the most effective and the most compassionate ways to address substance use disorders.
“GLIDE has helped me in ways that no one else ever has,” Zach said.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am at without these people at GLIDE,” she says. “Working here is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life. They took me as I was—and look at the work I’ve been able to do.”
On the first day of Black History Month, we are delighted to feature and honor Ernestine Nettles, who this Christmas celebrated 50 years of service—not only to GLIDE, but to her community in Oakland, the Civil Rights Movement, gender equality and voting rights.
Ernestine is a beloved pillar of the holiday feasts GLIDE organizes for its community. In fact, Ernestine is well known among holiday volunteers for being the first person to arrive on Thanksgiving morning, usually around 5:30 am. A couple of years ago she discovered that some of the younger volunteers had started a competition among themselves to see who could beat Ernestine to GLIDE on Thanksgiving Day!
Jennifer Gentile, a Holiday Volunteer Captain for 16 years, has many fond memories of working with Ernestine.
“I have extraordinarily strong feelings about Ernestine as a person, as my friend, and as the first person I see every Thanksgiving morning because she is our team’s early bird anchor. She is a phenomenal woman who truly has dedicated her life to serving others and fighting for civil rights, racial justice and gender equality.”
Jennifer mentioned that despite Ernestine’s years of working at GLIDE, this was the first holiday that she had her photo taken with Jan and Cecil.
“She’s very humble, and generally avoids any attention and certainly the spotlight, but 50 years of volunteering? That’s something!” says Jennifer.
A local justice hero
A committed activist and changemaker immersed in the Civil Rights Movement, Ernestine began volunteering with GLIDE in 1968 after meeting Janice Mirikitani and Rev. Cecil Williams while they were campaigning for the right to vote for 18-year-old Americans, and for girls’ and women’s right to wear pants to public school.
To have a cause that has stood the test of time and remained true to the initial dream is truly a blessing in these days.
“Cecil worked vigorously with the youth. Of course, he himself was young at the time! We got the legislation passed for the 18-year-olds’ right to vote, and we also went through the school boards and got the girls’ right to wear pants,” she says.
Due to their overlapping work, Ernestine has many recollections of Janice and Cecil over the years, and great insight into the trajectory of GLIDE’s programs.
“One day, Cecil and Jan were at my parents’ house and my dad said to Cecil, ‘Young man what is it you really want to do?’
“Cecil’s response was that he wanted GLIDE to be a place where anyone in San Francisco could come and get a decent meal and not have to go to bed hungry. That was his dream. And needless to say, the dream has come true.”
“In his quest to do that, everything else has happened—all the social services developed—and that was because of his ability to use funds for what they were meant for. To have a cause that has stood the test of time and remained true to the initial dream is truly a blessing in these days. I think that everyone has gravitated to GLIDE because it has always done what it said it would do and it was always a welcoming community.”
GLIDE Co-Founder Janice Mirikitani recalls working alongside Ernestine during pivotal social justice campaigns.
“I remember her having an enormous amount of energy. She was a firecracker! And very committed to justice issues. It wasn’t enough for her to just talk about it. She did a lot of work around the causes that she believed in. I’m really happy that she believed in GLIDE,” Janice said. “She put so much energy and time into volunteering for us. She is a very compassionate and giving individual.”
One of the things I tell young people is that when you’re looking at the issues and you’re looking at those candidates, make sure they have the right consciousness.
Besides her consistent volunteer work with GLIDE, Ernestine is highly involved in her local community. She is currently a Contract Compliance Officer with the City of Oakland, where she works to make opportunities available to small and very small local businesses. But creating opportunities and paving the way for others is not just her profession; it is truly her life’s work.
“I’ve always been a part of social justice movements; back then we called it civil rights! I’ve always worked in equal opportunity programs.”
She is one of the Vice Presidents of the Oakland League of Women Voters; one of the largest leagues in the country. Ernestine registered voters at the Women’s March and is passionate about transparency and responsibility when it comes to political fundraising.
“One of the things I tell young people is that when you’re looking at the issues and you’re looking at those candidates, make sure they have the right consciousness. Because doing the work that Cecil and Jan have done and that those at GLIDE do on a daily basis is a consciousness. It’s not something you do for money, per say, and I think everybody should make a decent living doing what they do, but you have to have the right consciousness.”
I think everybody should be responsible for some one who is less fortunate than them at some point along their journey. Like GLIDE and Cecil preach, we can’t be judgmental.
Additionally, Ernestine helped the late Mrs. Ethel Bradley, wife to Tom Bradley who was the first Black mayor of Los Angeles, build the Tom and Ethel Bradley Foundation. She works with Charles Blanchard in the National Association of Black Veterans, and she has worked closely with former Mayor of Oakland and House Representative the late Ron Dellums. In fact, Ernestine was Dellums’ very first intern in Washington D.C. She is also still connected with one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s aides, JT Johnson, of Atlanta, and this past summer she joined JT and his wife on a trip to Alabama.
“I had never walked across the bridge in Selma. It meant a lot to me to have that experience with JT. I flew into Atlanta, we went to Selma, and then to Montgomery, where we went to the lynching museum.”
Still more, she is involved with the MLK Jr. Freedom Center at Merritt College, and sponsors children to play Little League Baseball in Oakland. Ernestine at one point also took in a homeless couple, after seeing the numbers of unhoused people in Oakland rise year after year.
“I gave them a place to stay, I gave them a job. When they left my home, they went to another home, and now they’re sustaining themselves. I think everybody should be responsible for some one who is less fortunate than them at some point along their journey. Like GLIDE and Cecil preach, we can’t be judgmental. When I look at people who are homeless or who have substance use issues I always say, ‘Except for the grace of God, there could go I.’”
Paving the way
When asked about her life of service, Ernestine emphasizes the knowledge that every-day people have the ability and the duty to challenge unjust laws, and her belief that “to whom much is given, much is expected and required by God.”
While her family was not wealthy, she says her parents taught her that you can make a difference by sharing what you have with those around you who are in need.
“When I was a child, there was a family that lived in our neighborhood that had just moved from Tennessee. The father was having trouble getting work. That Saturday my mother and I went shopping and my mother put two boxes in the trunk of the car. When we were going home we stopped at our neighbors’ house and asked the mother to send one of her sons out to get a box of groceries. The lady was standing on the porch crying, holding her youngest child in her arms. She called my mother later and thanked her and said, ‘You know, if it hadn’t been for you we didn’t know what we were going to feed our children tonight.’
“My parents taught me that every generation is there to make it easier for the next. I have no children, I’ve never been married, but I feel I have an obligation to do something to make it a little better for those who come behind me.”
Crickette Brown Glad shares her truth and experience with GLIDE’s harm reduction outreach
GLIDE Church has a long-standing tradition of featuring voices from the community in a segment of Sunday Celebration called “I Am GLIDE.” Personal testimonies on the strength and power of unconditional love from our program participants, congregants, donors and volunteers provide what we often refer to as “the GLIDE sacred text.” We feature these inspiring stories here when we can.
A dedicated volunteer whose legacy lives on through his bequest to GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program
Longtime volunteer Jonathan Leong passed away on October 19, 2017, leaving a very generous bequest to GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program. Just days after creating his living trust, he told his sister Bonnie, “A person dies. A great charity organization lives on and on, helping the poor and needy.”
A native San Franciscan who grew up in Chinatown, Jonathan gave his time and money to many nonprofits.
Jonathan was born near Vallejo and Mason streets, just one mile away from GLIDE. He attended Lowell High School and graduated from San Jose State University. He worked in San Francisco for the US Postal Service for nearly four decades.
Jonathan had a wide range of interests. He loved learning new languages and was fluent in Cantonese, Japanese, Spanish and German. Inspired by his father, Jonathan traveled all through Europe and Asia. He loved Montreal and went there annually to attend the International Jazz Festival. His favorite hobby was chess, and he was a frequent visitor to The Mechanics Institute’s famous chess room.
When Jonathan retired, he started volunteering at St. Anthony’s and GLIDE’s dining halls.
His sister Bonnie describes her brother as someone who was a big believer in community. He wanted to help those less fortunate, she explains, people who had less than he did. In addition to GLIDE and St. Anthony’s, Jonathan also supported the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, organizations that reflected his values.
“Volunteers like Jonathan are the heart and soul of what we do here in the Meals program, which is nourishing the body and soul every day,” says Daily Free Meals Program Director George Gundry. “We rely on them (up to 85 volunteers a day) for their generous donation of labor in getting food prepped and served for hundreds of folks a day, but it’s really so much more than that. The human connection made across this most fundamental social act, the offering of food to a neighbor, is a powerful experience for both sides. It’s impossible to measure, but you feel it here. I know Jonathan felt it. We all do.”
Jonathan completed his living trust and gave a copy to his sister, not knowing that he had only a year of life remaining. Jonathan’s legacy of love and support will live on through a substantial bequest gift he made to support GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program. We are extraordinarily grateful and humbled by his generosity.
Hallie Brignall is GLIDE’s Annual Fund Manager. If you would like information on making your own legacy gift to GLIDE, you can reach Hallie at (415) 674-6186, or HBrignall@glide.org. Or visit www.myglidelegacy.org
GLIDE’s blend of meals, celebration and social justice adds up to a delicious holiday feast for the community
When Rabbi Michael Lezak joined GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice last year, one of his main goals was to connect broader Bay Area Jewish communities to GLIDE’s dynamic work. And what a year it’s been! Michael has brought in hundreds of community members from local synagogues and schools to serve meals, engage in proximate justice training courses, and, with the help of a steady volunteer group and our Daily Free Meals team, bake challah to give out to GLIDE staff every Friday morning on the principle that “you need to feed the people who feed the people.”
Ryan Clark is one of our GLIDE Emerging Leaders interns this summer. Joining us from Boston College, Ryan took an immediate interest in food justice, education and volunteerism, and has spent the last several weeks working on a campaign to increase and retain the number of volunteers in the Daily Free Meals Program. Though the internship is quickly coming to an end, Ryan took some time to reflect on the connections he has made with GLIDE staff and the people we serve. We are so appreciative of the care and enthusiasm he has shown in his work and for GLIDE! Continue reading “What Makes Me Volunteer”
Eddie is a Meals Program Team Member who first walked in the doors at 330 Ellis looking to volunteer. Two and a half years later, Eddie can do just about everything in the Meals Program – coffee house, prep room, main dining hall, opening shifts, closing shifts and everything in between. He does it all with a big smile and a heart of gold! And because he speaks FIVE languages, including three dialects spoken in China, he’s adept in communicating with our guests who come from other cultures and countries, particularly our senior community.
Kent first came to GLIDE as a homeless teenager in search of a hot meal and assistance navigating San Francisco’s affordable housing system. Today, he returns every Monday and Thursday morning to volunteer in the kitchen, which comes easy to him – he has years of experience in the restaurant industry! He believes little things, like a smile or a warm greeting, can make a big difference – two things he provides plenty of each week during his breakfast shifts. Thank you for getting up early and making breakfast a wonderful experience for our community, Kent! Continue reading “It's Never Too Late (Or Too Early!) to Make a Difference”
Welcome to our Volunteer and Staff Highlight Series! Throughout the next five weeks we will be shining the spotlight on a few of our amazing volunteers and staff members in the GLIDE Daily Free Meals program. These people pull off something miraculous every day — three times a day. If you’ve ever joined us for mealtime you know it’s a major operation, requiring nearly 100 people a day to get right. But the real mark of success is when our guests don’t have to think about anything except enjoying their food, a welcoming atmosphere, some friendly and familiar faces, and a sense that they belong. James Sampaga is a Meals Program Shift Lead in his 13th year at GLIDE. Everybody knows James. Recently we caught up with him in the middle of closing a lunch time shift. Amid the clamor of clanking dishes and soul music over the dining room speakers, James offered his thoughts on the importance of the Daily Free Meals program as well as the incalculable value of volunteering. Continue reading “Serving Lunch (and Love) with James Sampaga”