A Junior League of Austin community placement spotlight.
The dining room of the Austin Shelter for Women and Children (ASWC) hums with quiet concentration and pleasant companionship. The children, and some of their mothers, work diligently using the markers, stickers, glitter, and glue to make Valentine’s cards for each other. One girl looks up and proudly announces: “I’m making this one for my mommy. It’s going to make her smile.”
These are the sights and sounds of The Junior League of Austin (JLA) Craft Night at the women’s and children’s shelter. The ASWC has been operated by the Salvation Army since 2001, in partnership with the City of Austin and Austin Public Health. The ASWC is an emergency shelter focused on providing housing and other support services for women and their dependent children experiencing homelessness in the Austin community.
The Junior League of Austin Craft Night at the Austin Shelter for Women and Children
Each week, League members work with the ASWC Volunteer Coordinator to brainstorm crafts and snacks for the children at the center. After setting up the craft, the shelter staff usher in anywhere from three to twenty children, eager and ready to get their hands on the markers, pipe cleaners or clay. The JLA Craft Night provides a much needed creative outlet for children in the middle of a traumatic experience, and it also provides them a safe space to destress and connect.
With an average stay of 90 days for most women and children in the center, it is very easy for volunteers to create meaningful relationships with the children they serve.
“JLA volunteers really talk to our children, and more importantly, listen when they talk,” says Volunteer Coordinator Donna Clendennen. “They make our kids feel important and special. Even if a child is having a hard time with a craft, they leave happy because JLA volunteers take time to work with them one on one, talk to them during the process and make them feel important.”
A typical night for a child at the center includes dinner in the big dining hall, homework in the learning center, and the rest of the night in their rooms with their families. However, on craft night, the children have the opportunity to create, bond with each other, and form relationships with people outside of their families and center staff. These nights also give the kids a safe space to be, and allow the mothers precious time to themselves.
Volunteering for JLA Craft Nights at the ASWC
As a volunteer at the ASWC last year, I can say from experience that there is not a more rewarding way to spend two hours on a Thursday night. While the crafts can get messy, and maybe don’t always go the way you had hoped, the look on a child’s face when they present you with the dream catcher they made (including glitter feathers and multi-colored beads), is priceless.
Currently, the center is not allowed to host volunteers on site due to COVID-19. However, that is not stopping JLA volunteers from serving the community at ASWC.
“Coming up soon will be door decorating kits for each child to decorate their room door for Halloween,” says Clendennen. “We are [also] looking into other events, perhaps virtual, where JLA members can engage with our children.”
About the Writer: Haley Behr has been a member of the Junior League of Austin since 2018. She teaches middle school at a local private school and remains busy chasing after her one-year-old daughter. She was born and raised in Austin, Texas.