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10:38 AM Mon, Dec. 17th

Serving the homeless with safety, dignity

Coalition of Compassion and Justice volunteer Doretta Kearney, 63, of Prescott, washes dishes in the shelter facility on Madison Avenue in Prescott. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Coalition of Compassion and Justice volunteer Doretta Kearney, 63, of Prescott, washes dishes in the shelter facility on Madison Avenue in Prescott. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Four days a week, Doretta Kearney navigates her scooter over to the Coalition for Compassion and Justice (CCJ) emergency shelter on Madison Avenue in Prescott where she does the noon lunch dishes.

It’s a simple task, but critical to an organization that depends on the generosity of the community to serve its homeless clientele with safety and dignity.

Kearney, 63, whose husband, Kevin, died of cancer last year, opted to volunteer at CCJ last October because serving others in need seemed a way to regain a sense of purpose in her life. She started by just wiping down tables and chatting with the clients that come for lunch, and then moved into washing dishes, a job that requires sanitation training to ensure all cookware, plates and utensils meet proper health standards.

“After my husband passed, I needed something,” said Kearney who was a caretaker for five years and before that worked at New Frontiers for 12 years.

A friend invited her to visit CCJ, and she fell in love with the clients, the staff and her fellow volunteers.

“It’s a great organization,” Kearney said, noting she would have never stayed had it not been a place that lives up to its creed of “compassion” for the most vulnerable of the community.

She even decorated her small dish washing space with three inspirational plaques that feed her spirit: “Live, Love, Laugh,” “Having Hope Will Give You Courage,” and “Don’t Forget Where You Came From But Never Lose Sight of Where You Are Going.”

Never on the verge of homelessness in her life, Kearney said her experience at CCJ over the last year has given her a new insight and perspective on the patience and perseverance that goes into this mission. She notes the staff and volunteers do far more than just serve two meals a day — they take people to the laundromat, help them fill out job applications, enable them to shower and simply be accepted.

“They’re (the homeless and impoverished) able to come here and get relief from their hardships. They have a place to go,” Kearney said.

What feeds her soul, and makes it imperative she return day after day, is the generosity of spirit she witnesses in both clients and staff. To see the smiles, and hear the thank yous, is her personal reward.

“Their gratitude is overwhelming to watch,” Kearney said. “This is a safe haven.”

CCJ Food Service Manager Christine Fite said Kearney has become a fixture, her “smile” and “super positive attitude” regardless what’s happening on any given day is a treat for all.

On long days, when there is a big crowd and lots of dishes, Kearney remains cheerful, even when she thinks she is done and someone hands her yet another stack of dishes, or asks her to wash one more pot, Fite said.

“And she’s an excellent dishwasher,” Fite said of the task that is not as simple as it might seem given the communal dining facility health and sanitation rules. “Dishes have to be done right and she takes that seriously.”

No one better put a towel over any dish Kearney put on the drying rack.

For Kearney, though, CCJ is not just a place where she helps others. It is a place that has enabled her to heal.

“It has taken my emptiness and turned it into hopefulness,” Kearney said. “It works both ways.”

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.