Laurel Fagan: Reliable hand at SPiN

She’s wearing a mask, but she’s still smiling.

Laurel Fagan is a welcome and comforting face, as she has been for nearly a year volunteering at SPiN Cafe.

Board member Tom Saunders expresses gratitude and wonder at Laurel’s dedication, as she serves sack meals and assists guests with their laundry. Saunders says the seven churches who serve with her each week thoroughly enjoy working with her, and “Laurel sees opportunities to help our guests and initiates the dialogue to bring solutions to their needs. She is an absolute delight to be around and we’re blessed to have her in the SPiN Organization.”

We managed to pull her from her duties long enough to answer a few questions.

Laurel Fagan, unmasked at Flintstone Park.

How long have you been volunteering for SPiN?
I started last August, serving meals in the evenings when we were still in our original space on Bayshore. So, yes, I’ve seen a lot of changes in a pretty short time.

What caught your interest in helping?
Back when Vivian Rogers-Decker was just starting SPiN out, I attended a meeting where she went over SPiN’s vision and brought together community support. I loved the idea of providing meals and laundry service and a place of community. That was five or six years ago. I just didn’t have the time to commit, but last year I retired as a Head Start preschool teacher, so I decided to take action, and here I am.

What wonderful things have you seen as a SPiN volunteer – things that bring you joy?
The resiliency of our guests. To see people struggle so hard for so long, and not give up, inspires me. And with SPiN, definitely I love the community feeling. From the moment I first came down to volunteer, everyone – our guests, fellow volunteers, SPiN staff – made me feel welcome. It’s a strong community, a group that looks out for each other.

What frustrations have you had in serving our guests? 
With the current health crisis, people have nowhere to go when it’s not a good day outside. Today, for instance, it’s rainy and cold, and the library is closed, and many coffee shops have been closed, so a person can’t just get out of the weather and get a cup of coffee. These are things that most of us take for granted.

In your year (almost) serving our guests week after week, have you ever felt like you were in danger?

Not ever?

…but don’t some people try to tell the community that they should be scared of our guests?
People get scared when others act in a way that’s unfamiliar. That’s why some in the community are fearful of our guests with mental illness: they may act out in a way that another community member hasn’t seen before, and the reaction is fear.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about that?
All of our guests, including the ones with mental issues and substance abuse problems, everyone, they’re all part of this community.

What are your thoughts on the churches that have joined forces to bring meal service to six days a week? 
Oh my gosh, what a blessing. And our guests are so grateful! They thank us, especially the church volunteers, every day.

Are you still serving about 25 meals each day?
Actually some days now, it’s over 30. Usually we see the numbers go up a bit at the end of the month when people’s money gets tight, but we’ve had an increase early this month.

Is that a sign of something, economically?
I don’t know. But we have such a wide range of people who come. We have lots of regular guests in that number, but we’re always getting new people too. We get everybody from single adults to whole families. Some stay at the Haven because they have nowhere else to go. Some are staying outdoors. Others have homes but they’re struggling financially, so they really appreciate a meal they don’t have to pay for.

As you get to know your guests and their stories, do you find yourself advocating for them with the County or other agencies for services?
Oh yes. I call the County for them, and I give our guests info on services available for housing and health issues. That’s another frustration with the library being closed. Many of our guests don’t have smartphones, so going to the library is the only way they can access the internet – which is where a lot of County services are found, especially now as County caseworkers are trying to get a lot of their work done remotely.

So, the virus has forced a lot of services onto the internet, but the people that need the services can’t access them because they can’t get on the internet?
That’s right. And once again, internet access is something most of us take for granted.

…and if they’re living outside, or at the Haven, and they want to be housed… and they don’t have internet… they can’t access County services to get housing?
That’s right. It’s a struggle. It’s why I help some of our guests to call the County. But some of our guests have felonies on their records, and you can’t get subsidized housing with a felony…

…so a person with a felony record already has less chance of finding a job, and now they can’t get help with housing… so it’s a vicious circle.
It is.

And back to an earlier question, even with people around you with felony records, you’ve never felt you were in danger?

Are there some success stories from your outreach on behalf of our guests?
I’ve contacted Garage of Blessings when one of our guests needs some help with clothing, bedding, or tents. GoB is closed now, but they can still put together the gear I need, and I can arrange to pick things up at the door. Then I’ll have it the next day at lunch for the guest who requested it.

Has there been any talk among our guests about the current George Floyd protests?
It doesn’t seem like there’s been an impact on the discussions I hear from our guests. They’re just trying to survive every day. And as I mentioned, many of them don’t have internet access, so they’re not hearing the news like the rest of us.

What’s the future for SPiN Cafe in our community?
You know we’re helping guests with their laundry again, right? That was Vivian’s original vision for SPiN. We’re still looking for a new place to land, a permanent place to continue that mission, and we won’t stop. None of the changes, not even the virus, have stopped us. We admire the resiliency of our guests, and I suppose we owe it to them to show the same strength to keep going.

You are a great asset to SPiN, and to our guests, Laurel.
Well… I’ve been helped along by so many people throughout my life, people who have been there for me when I needed a hand up. Since I can’t pay them back directly, the only way to do it is to help others. I find a lot of joy in what I do for SPiN.