Isaac Lopez has certainly been very valuable and beloved to both those who work at and seek assistance from The Caring Place. Now a longtime active volunteer, Isaac was initially made familiar with The Caring Place over 17 years ago through his neighbor, Doris Kromer, who was one of The Caring Place’s founders. “We were good friends. She kept telling me all the time, ‘I need you to consider volunteering at TCP. With your bilingual skills, you would be a great asset to us.’ So when I finally retired in 2005, I figured I’d go do what Doris asked me to do.” After making that decision, Isaac quickly became involved. He filled out an application on a Tuesday, had a volunteer interview the next day, and was volunteering by Friday morning. Isaac originally expected to be a cashier in the store, but the staff member who interviewed him was from Programs and Services, and asked him to consider working in that department. Like Doris, it was again recognized that Isaac would be a great asset.
Isaac began as a Client Advocate volunteer in Programs and Services, and he got the hang of his position as quickly as he started. Isaac remembered that he shadowed one client meeting and was supposed to shadow another, but the person training him happened to be late, so he did the next client by himself. From then on, he was told by the others in Programs and Services, that he “was great and didn’t need any more training.” For five years, Isaac continued to be great as a Client Advocate and helped many by interviewing and assessing the needs of clients. However, for such a caring person as Isaac, this job was not without challenges; Isaac said, “I started bringing the weight of all the situations home with me.” Because of this, Isaac briefly transitioned to cashiering for a year but soon moved back to Programs and Services as a receptionist and intake volunteer. Being bilingual, he has been of great assistance in intake for over ten years.
Through the years, Isaac has collected many memories and stories that remind him just how important his role at The Caring Place has been. Isaac vividly remembers The Caring Place and the community coming together right after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “At the time, many client advocate volunteers had scheduled vacations, so I was one of the only volunteers around with the staff during the summer. We started to get a bunch of refugees from New Orleans. We had a lot of people here. So many. The lobby was packed; it was mind-boggling. All the staff jumped in and helped out. We opened a housing complex close to San Gabriel Park. We housed some of the people over there temporarily. The people from Georgetown brought us all kinds of food, clothing, blankets, stuff like that. I remember a motel in Georgetown told us to send refugees and they’d give them a special rate. It was a really great thing. It was hard to see those people in need. A lot of them were crying. And, really, you couldn’t do enough for them. Most of them just had what they wore on their backs. Everything else was ruined.”
Though it is surely hard to constantly witness people in crisis, Isaac’s help has been much appreciated and remembered by those he has met along the way. The overwhelming gratitude of the clients at The Caring Place has left a lasting impression on Isaac. “I tell people, ‘I’ve been ‘God-blessed’ so many times that I feel like a saint!’ One woman was so happy to receive assistance from The Caring Place that she cried and wanted to know if there was anything she could do for me. She said her husband was a handyman, and she offered him to come mow my yard or clean my house. I said no, of course, and I tried to explain that it was The Caring Place helping them, not really me. But, the next afternoon, the doorbell rang and there was a man standing there with a lawnmower who said, ‘My wife wanted me to come mow your yard.’ They knew where I lived because they were members of our church. I told him I couldn’t let him do that. They were just so grateful.”
These stories of gratitude are numerous. “One of the things I’ll always remember is one day I was at the grocery store, and a lady was checking out in front of me. Her child turned and yelled, ‘Oh, look! There’s Mr. Caring Place!’ Another time, there was a little girl who saw me and ran to her mom and said, ‘Mama, mama, that’s the man who helped us at The Caring Place!’ I think her mom was kind of embarrassed, but then the little girl ran up to me and gave me a hug.” Retelling these occasions, Isaac added, “There are just so many worthwhile little moments.”
Such moments of genuine gratitude illustrate just how valuable The Caring Place is to the lives of many. “We provide a much needed service. When you look around, and really look, you might see how many people are really hurting.” Isaac views seeing those hurting and in crisis as an opportunity and obligation to help. “They’re not in crisis because they wanted to be there. There are some circumstances that really just happen. We’re helping people. And people are grateful for it. They’ll tell you that. Most people I meet with want to end with a hug.”
Recognized for his commitment to The Caring Place, Isaac now serves as a member of the board. He enjoys discussing the business of The Caring Place, and is proud to be associated with the organization in any way. Isaac considers being identified by some as “Mr. Caring Place” to be a special honor because “the people in the community understand and know what our mission is: to help those in crisis. It’s a good feeling to be connected to that mission, to what The Caring Place is trying to accomplish. It makes me grateful to be a small part.” Those who he has met over the years–whether it be other volunteers, staff, or clients–would likely tell you that Isaac is being quite humble and plays a much larger part than he often realizes.