Miracle Messages Volunteer Training Everyone is someone's somebody.

Welcome to MM volunteer training!

This training will cover the basics of who we are as an organization, how Miracle Messages works, and what you can do to get involved.

By the end of this training, you should know:

  1. What Miracle Messages stands for as an organization, and why we do what we do
  2. How the Miracle Messages process works
  3. How you can get involved
Before we begin: basic tenets of MM volunteering

The heart and soul of Miracle Messages is our volunteers. Without our team of committed, active volunteers, Miracle Messages would simply not be able to operate. We are incredibly grateful to those who choose to donate their time, energy, and talents to our mission.

Given how much we, and our homeless clients, depend on our volunteers, we ask that you approach this work with a commitment to the following tenets:

  1. Honor your commitments. Show up when you say you will, complete the tasks you commit to completing, and honor our time and yours. Most of all, honor your commitments to our homeless clients.
  2. Close the loop. Miracle Messages works because we facilitate communication. This can only succeed if our volunteers communicate effectively with each other. A good rule of thumb: at the end of any volunteer task, there should be someone with whom you communicate your result or the status of the case. If you haven’t transmitted a result to someone else on the team, the loop probably has not been closed.
  3. People over programs. Remember that this volunteer work is about people, and that the way you approach this work will impact people’s lives. If we do this work well, we can have a positive impact on people’s lives. If we do this work callously, carelessly, or incompletely, we may be letting down or hurting those who are vulnerable. In doing this work, your priority should always be doing right by the people involved.
  4. Partner when possible.* Miracle Messages is designed to be collaborative, and we want our volunteers to work collaboratively with each other and local service organizations. The best resource for how to do this work are other volunteers who are in this with you.

*We encourage all volunteering to be done in pairs. So, work with a buddy!

These tenets can also be found in your volunteer handbook, which you will review and sign at the end of this training.

Section 1: What is Miracle Messages, and how does it work?

What is Miracle Messages, and how does it work?

Our goal is to reunite 1 million people by 2021...and show the world that social media can be used for social good.

Miracle Messages reconnects people living on the streets with their loved ones (and us), through short video messages and social media. To date, Miracle Messages’ global network of volunteers have reunited over 50 people with their loved ones, 15 of whom are now in stable housing or living with family.

We envision a world without homelessness. A world where everyone is nurtured by a social support system and sense of belonging – a social home – whether or not they currently have physical housing. Our goal is to reunite 1 million people with their loved ones by 2021. And in the process, to build nurturing relationships between our neighbors experiencing homelessness and the rest of us as a society.

Section 2: What does the issue of homelessness look like?

Homelessness by the numbers

If you live in a US city, you probably know that homelessness is an issue--you've likely seen it with your own eyes.

The numbers on homelessness tell an important story about the way our society works. We want Miracle Messages volunteers to understand that story, and how we are trying to change it.

The story that numbers can't tell

At the same time, there is a story of homelessness that numbers can't tell. At the individual level, homelessness is an experience that impacts the ways that certain individuals are able--or unable--to engage with society.

The video below was taken as part of the "Homeless GoPro" project (a precursor to Miracle Messages. It is a day in the life of Adam Reichart, a homeless man, whose birthday is approaching.

Who are the homeless individuals in our partner facilities?

At Miracle Messages, you will likely engage with people who are "chronically homeless", meaning that they have likely experienced long-term and/or repeated bouts of homelessness coupled with disability (physical or mental).

Most people (maybe you) have an image in mind when they think about homelessness and the homeless. This often informs people's behaviors towards the homeless. Think of the ways that you have seen homeless people treated in your city, or spoken about in conversation. Do people avert their eyes to avoid engaging? Do people make assumptions about who homeless people are and how they got to be homeless?

It is easy to stereotype homeless individuals or make assumptions about their characters. However, it is important to recognize that what often differentiates homeless individuals from others experiencing hardship is the lack of access to resources to improve their situation.

Section 3: What is Miracle Messages' approach?

At Miracle Messages, we don't define people by what they lack.

But what does that look like in practice?

Reaching across vs. Reaching down

Miracle Messages operates on the the principle that we are not administering a service; rather, our volunteers are open-hearted, curious people who want to engage with the lives and stories of others. We open ourselves to hearing human stories without judgement, and, when appropriate, sharing our own. We engage with curiosity and humility, without assuming that we already know that person's experience.

Approach this work ⎯ and our clients ⎯ with empathy.

Miracle Messages does not subscribe to the idea of helping "the deserving poor". We do not place expectations of gratitude on the homeless individuals with whom we work. To the contrary, we recognize that they are people who are dealing with an extraordinary burden--one which may affect their mood and their desire to interact.

This might sounds obvious, but most homeless individuals are under enormous stress. For most of us, a stressful day might involve something like spilling coffee on your shirt, getting stuck in terrible traffic, or having a dispute with a friend or coworker. For the homeless clients we serve, the day you meet them is a day that included waking up in a place where there is limited security and personal space. It likely also included dealing with untreated aches and pains (at least) and coping with social alienation.

We ask that our volunteers approach our homeless clients with sensitivity towards these issues and the emotional turmoil associated with them. If someone seems angry or reluctant to engage, try to remember what that person likely experienced that day.

The same type of empathy and understanding must be applied to the loved ones contacted by Miracle Messages. Remember that we don't know the full history of the two people we are connecting. Loved ones may not react with joy or excitement when we contact them, and they may not want to reconnect. Miracle Messages empowers people to make connections by providing tools and information, but we don't place expectations of what people should do with that information.

A note on client privacy

Miracle Messages serves a vulnerable population. The clients that choose to participate in Miracle Messages entrust us with information that is sensitive, personal, and in some cases, extremely private. They do this in the hopes that we will use that information to further their interest in reconnecting, and with the expectation that we will treat their information with the utmost dignity and respect.

As you go about your work with Miracle Messages, please keep this in mind. By virtue of the task that we have undertaken, we will be sharing personal information; however, it is our responsibility to disclose only what is necessary to further the aims of the client and loved ones.

One particularly sensitive piece of information--one which must be handled with care--is the disclosure that the client is homeless. When you first reach out to a loved one to facilitate a reconnection, please do not disclose that the client is homeless. This may be inferred by the loved one if they investigate the nature of our service, but it is not appropriate for us to disclose this directly at the outset.

Section 4: How does Miracle Messages work in practice, and what role can I play?

To date, Miracle Messages has reconnected over 70 homeless individuals with their loved ones; of those, 17 are now off the streets. Each one of those reconnections was achieved by volunteers like you.

So how does it work?

The simple answer is this: Miracle Messages asks homeless clients the question:

Is there anyone that you would like to reconnect with?

If the answer is yes, a Miracle Messages volunteer helps the homeless individual through the process of starting a case--signing informed consent, completing a short informational form, and recording a video message. Then, the Miracle Messages volunteer uses ordinary search tools to try to locate the loved one to deliver the message and facilitate a reunion.

So, how does that all happen? Great question!

Section 5: How do I get started as an MM messenger?

Messengers are our face-to-face volunteers-- connectors, video recorders, and, most often, the people who relay messages back to homeless individuals. As a messenger, you are often the first point of connection between a homeless individual and the Miracle Messages process. Messengers have the unique opportunity to connect through warmth, curiosity, and shared human experience.

The messenger role is human-facing, and involves building relationships with our homeless clients. This means the role comes with a high level of responsibility to the people we serve.

How it's done: a practical guide to being a messenger

The work of being a messenger consists of 2 parts:

  1. Recording a message, and relaying updates
  2. Helping to facilitate a reunion

1. Recording a message and relaying updates

The video below will walk you through the steps of recording a message, and the follow-up process when the message has been recorded.

2. Facilitating a reunion

In the best case scenario, the message that you record will go to two parties wanting to reconnect. When that happens, we want you to be part of it. Reunions are an incredibly inspiring and gratifying part of this work.

Miracle Messages is currently in the process of developing protocols for how to best facilitate reunions, and we hope to add this to the messenger training soon. For the moment, when you reach the point where facilitating a reconnection is imminent, let Kevin, Jessica, Kate, or Yomi know. We will work to bring in the right parties--including case workers and support services.

Tough cases repository

Although we have done our best with this training to cover the basics of being a messenger, we know that questions will arise in the course of doing this work that we can't answer here. That is the nature of human-facing work: while you can try to plan for the best possible outcome, you can't always anticipate how people will respond.

At Miracle Messages, we are also learning from your experiences.

If and when you encounter a tough case, we encourage you to submit that case to our tough cases repository through this form. Not only will we do our best to support your efforts, but we will also use these cases to inform our best practices moving forward.

So...there's your intro! At the end of this training, there will be opportunities to sign up for messenger events (both orientation sessions and volunteer sessions). Don't forget to sign up!

Section 6: How do I get started as an MM detective?

As a volunteer detective, your role is to help people experiencing homelessness to locate and reconnect with their loved ones, based on the information that is captured by volunteer messengers. This includes:

  1. Using the video, case notes, and online resources to identify people who might be (or lead you to) the loved on in question
  2. Doing outreach by phone, email, or through social media channels to determine whether those leads have led you to the right person
  3. Making the initial connection to the loved one, in which you let that person know who you are and that there is a message for them
  4. Looping in the messenger so that the messenger can report back to the homeless client and, when appropriate, facilitate the reconnection*

*We encourage all volunteers to work as part of a team, and to take part in each step of the process. However, it is the messenger's responsibility to convey information to both parties once a connection has been made.

The video below will guide you through the steps of getting started as a detective.

Outreach Scripts

Once you think you have identified the loved one in question, you can use any of the following scripts to reach out:

If you are using facebook:

Hi __[name]__! I'm a volunteer for a nonprofit called Miracle Messages (miraclemessages.org), where we try to reunite some lost family members.

We have a message from __[name]__ to his __[brother, mom, etc]__, __[name]__. One bit of information that was given by __[name]__ was that he also has a _[nephew, son, etc]_ named __[name]__, who __[is an engineer, went to UCLA, lives in SF, etc]__. Would this be you? :)

If you are using email:

Hi __[name]__,

Just left you a voicemail and thought I'd follow-up. My name is __[name]__ and I'm a volunteer for a nonprofit called Miracle Messages, which helps people record short video messages to their lost loved ones. You can learn more about our work at miraclemessages.org.

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting __[name]__ here in __[location]___. We had a very nice conversation, and he recorded a 2 minute video message to you, saying that he hasn't seen you in nearly 35 years and would love to say hello and reconnect on an initial call.

I'd be happy to share the message with you if you are indeed his _[brother, mom, etc]_! Please let me know either way so I can ask our volunteers to continue the search if need be. You can reach me at _[phone number, this email address, etc]_. Thank you!

If you are calling on the phone:

"Hello, my name is ________ and trying to help locate _________on behalf of_________".

If you're give the chance, you can say: "I'm a volunteer detective for Miracle Messages, a non-profit that helps long lost family members to reconnect. __________has no resources to try and find _____________, so we're here to facilitate that."

So...there's your intro! At the end of this training, there will be opportunities to sign up for detective events (both online and in person). Don't forget to sign up!

Section 7: Where can I find more resources?

The trainings above are meant to introduce volunteers to the ways that you can get involved with Miracle Messages. We know that questions will come up along the way as you begin your work as a volunteer.

If you want to reach out to someone for help or with questions, you can visit our community page here. This will open up a new window with contact information for various people who can help.

If you are interested in learning more about Miracle Messages as an organization, we have gathered some resources here (this will also open a new tab).

Section 8: How can I do this work safely, and how can I maintain the safety of MM's homeless clients?

The safety of all parties involved in Miracle Messages is extremely important. Here are our guiding principles for maintaining volunteer safety:

Do not meet clients outside of partner facilities. If you need to meet a client for any reason, make sure that other people know about your meeting. Also make sure that your meeting occurs in the daytime, and is in a public and visible location.

Do not give out your personal phone number or home or work address to clients. You can give clients the Miracle Messages Dialpad number: (855) 508-5425. If you want to maintain contact with a client, it is also okay to connect via Facebook messenger, but please be aware that doing so can blur boundaries for clients. Use Facebook messenger with discretion.

Remember what Miracle Messages does, and what we don’t do. Miracle Messages is designed to reconnect homeless individuals with their loved ones; we are not equipped to provide any supportive services beyond this. Clients may request other services or personal favors; the best course of action is to refer them to service providers equipped to meet their needs.

If you have an interaction with a client that makes you feel threatened or unsafe, please let a Miracle Messages staff member know as soon as possible.

Remember that we meet people where they are at in life, and offer this service to people as they come. We don’t always know the clients’ full histories , conditions, or tendencies. With that in mind, we honor the wishes of loved ones with respect to the desire to reconnect. This is an opportunity for clients to say who they love and who they would like to reconnect with, but we don’t move forward with a reunion unless the loved one chooses to participate.

The video below covers a few tips that should help keep you, our clients, and their loved ones safe.

The items discussed in the video above are also covered comprehensively in our volunteer handbook.

Section 8: Summary and Quiz

Now that you've been introduced to volunteering with Miracle Messages, please take a few minutes to complete our volunteer quiz here.

You're finished with training...so start volunteering!

Now that you've finished training, here's how you can get started as a volunteer:

  1. Go to my.miraclemessages.org and make your volunteer profile.
  2. Sign up for a volunteer event! Volunteer signups happen through facebook, but don't forget to get a free eventbrite ticket too.
  3. Join us on facebook:


Created with images by PDPics - "signature sign writing pen author write business" • cogdogblog - "Fresh Start" • Marc Brüneke - "homeless" • GiselaFotografie - "connected together 1child wedding strong" • Hans - "puzzle play share piecing together pieces of" • akk_rus - "Talk" • Matt From London - "Sherlock Holmes the invisible detective" • keithriess - "books resources reading education knowledge information school" • dno1967b - "IMGP4204" • hellosputnik - "Connect the Dots" • jayneandd - "Finish Line"

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