Miracle Messages 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 to get started!
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. 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. Put 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.

In addition to these tenets, Miracle Messages has also developed a volunteer code of conduct. This code is reviewed in the "safety" section below. We ask that all volunteers review and sign this document before their first shift.

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 2023...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 80 people with their loved ones, 18 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 2023. And in the process, to build nurturing relationships between our neighbors experiencing homelessness and the rest of us as a society.

Section 2: How does Miracle Messages approach the issue of homelessness?

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

Homelessness is a national crisis in the United States. Walking down the street in any US city, the crisis can seem overwhelming and insurmountable.

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.

How does social disconnection play into homelessness?

Consider the following quote from one of our clients:

Almost everyone experiences hardship in their lives: job insecurity, illness, injury, and others. You probably know people who have experienced such hardships, or perhaps you've experienced one or more yourself.

For the luckiest among us, loved ones provide a safety net--emotionally, and perhaps physically and financially--that allow us to overcome hardship. Without those safety nets, these hardships may become insurmountable.

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 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 judgment, 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 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.

When you think of the individuals experiencing homelessness as people first, the rest of what we do is self-explanatory.

One really easy way to approach this work is by asking yourself the following question:

If my brother/sister/mom/dad/son/daughter was lost or stranded and unable to reach me, and they asked someone for help, what would I hope that that stranger would do to help the person I loved?

When you put it that way, its pretty simple. You would hope that stranger would make every effort to get in touch with you.

That's what we do for people experiencing homelessness, and for the people who love them.

Section 4: What does is take to reconnect homeless people with their loved ones?

Take a look at the three stories below. Each of these cases was solved by a volunteer like you.

Juanita's Story

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida • November 2015

Juanita met Miracle Messages at First Presbyterian Church and Hope South Florida. She had been out of contact with her family after leaving her home in Hartford, and had lost touch after changing phone numbers.

Juanita H.

Founder Kevin Adler and volunteer Riley Deitado worked on this case. Riley pored through online profiles, but wasn’t sure if she had found the right person. Kevin reached out, hoping for the best.

Kevin A.

Juanita reunited after 25 years.

Juanita with her brother.

Juanita’s family was overjoyed to hear from her. As her brother said, “We were walking around scared for years…we didn't know if she was alive." After hearing from her through Miracle Messages, those fears were put to rest, and the family began the process of healing.

Timothy S's Story

San Francisco, California • June 2017

Timothy S. met Miracle Messages at a shelter in San Francisco, and immediately asked if we could help him find his daugther, He hadn’t spoken to her in 17 years, since she was three years old. He had no idea how to find her.

Timothy S.

Volunteer Mark Askins connected with Timothy and immediately got to work searching. He spent time poring over online records to find a point of contact for Timothy’s daughter.

Mark Askins

Timothy S. talks to his daughter regularly.

After an extensive search, Mark found a contact number for Timothy’s daughter and reached out. She was excited to hear from her dad.

Timothy called the reunion “the most amazing thing that is ever gonna happen to [him].” Timothy is now in housing, and he still talks to his daughter every day.

Timothy C's Story

San Francisco, California • October 2017

Timothy C. had been homeless in San Francisco for five years when he met Miracle Messages. He had been trying to go home almost since he arrived, but he couldn’t reach anyone in his family to go back home to.

Timothy C.

Volunteer Nancy Erhard connected with Timothy and immediately got to work searching for his family. It was a tough case--there was no working phone number listed, nor a working email address.

Nancy Erhard

Nancy tried the emails and phone numbers listed online for Timothy’s family, but she couldn’t get through. Undeterred, Nancy wrote a handwritten note to Timothy’s sister.

Within a week, Nancy received a response.

Timothy's sister had been looking for Timothy, too, and she was ready to welcome him home.

What do these cases have in common? The volunteers who worked on them didn't give up.

Of course, there are cases that can't be solved. Sometimes a loved one doesn't want to be found; other times, names, addresses, and phone numbers have just changed too many times. But for many cases, a combination of commitment, ingenuity and gumption will do the trick.

As one of our volunteers famously said when we asked her how she managed to find a difficult-to-find loved one:

I just had to STINKIN' keep trying to find him!

Do you have the gumption to solve cases? If so, let's get into the details.

Section 5: How does Miracle Messages work?

Miracle Messages' approach to reconnecting homeless individuals with their loved ones is simple and effective. It can be summarized as a three step process:

  1. Step 1: Initiate the case. A Miracle Messages volunteer connects with a person experiencing homelessness and collects information about the loved one that the homeless individual wants to reconnect with. If desired, the homeless client may record a video message to their loved one.
  2. Step 2: Deliver the message. That volunteer uses internet research tools--as well as the resource of the Miracle Messages community--to locate the loved one and deliver the message. This involves internet searching, making phone calls and messages, and of course, using every shred of gumption and ingenuity in your arsenal.
  3. Step 3: Reunite people. If the loved one wants to reconnect with the homeless individual, the volunteer works to facilitate a reunion.

Details on each of these steps are below. Remember: there is no magical Miracle Messages machine--it's all volunteers like you doing the work!

Step 1: Initiate.

The process of initiating a search can begin either through a Miracle Messages kiosk, or through the Miracle Messages mobile app.

The Miracle Messages Hotline

The Miracle Messages hotline is the easiest, most direct way for clients, caseworkers, and loved ones to initiate a search. A homeless person (or their representative) will be able to simply call the hotline number, provide some information to the volunteer on call, and give us a callback number to relay information about their case.

With the development of the Miracle Messages hotline, our service is no longer limited to a few pilot cities. Anyone, from anywhere, can initiate a case.

There are two ways to volunteer using the hotline: you can either offer the service (street outreach) and reach another volunteer operator, or you can BE the volunteer operator (hotline volunteering). Both are great ways to volunteer with us!

Here's how street outreach works:

To actually BE the hotline volunteer taking calls, you will need some additional training. Take a look at the volunteering dashboard for an overview; if you decide that you want to be a hotline volunteer after reviewing the info, let Jess know at jess@miraclemessages.org!

Step 2: Deliver.

Once a search has been initiated, the search begins!

At Miracle Messages, we use a community forum to solve cases. That forum is the Miracle Messages-Volunteer Detectives! facebook group.

Cases are either automatically posted in the group, or posted manually by volunteers (depending on how the case came in). At that point, the entire volunteer community is invited act as detectives, and contribute leads (possible points of contact) to the case. One person will be tagged as the messenger, and that person will be responsible for reaching out to leads.

Here is an overview of how the group works:

A detailed guide to researching cases can be found in a separate training, which you can access by clicking the button below. However, you can only be granted access to the case database by attending a volunteer orientation session.

You can try a case in our messenger tutorial here.

3. Reunite.

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 or Jess know. We will work to bring in the right parties--including case workers and support services.

Perry and his son Joey, reunited at last.

Once a reunion has occurred, Miracle Messages follows up with the loved one to offer resources to support the reunion. You can see the template that we use here.

Section 6: This sounds great! How can I get started?

If you are reading this and you haven't signed up for a volunteer orientation session, that's your next step. All of the detailed information about volunteering (how to sign up for shifts, how to access the database and the volunteer interface) will be made available at orientation.

If you received this at an orientation session, then you don't need to attend another one ;). Just shoot jess (jess@miraclemessages.org) an email letting her know that you are ready to get started!

Section 7: Safety Information and Code of Conduct

The safety of all parties involved in Miracle Messages is extremely important.

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

Code of Conduct

Based on our experience doing this work, Miracle Messages has established the following code of conduct for our volunteers. Please know that nothing in this code is arbitrary or bureaucratic. We arrived at this code of conduct based on our experiences, and this reflects our best assessment of how to do this work safely.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

For the safety of everyone involved in our work, we have created a volunteer code of conduct, which you can find here. Please review and sign this document before you begin volunteering with Miracle Messages.

Section 8: I'm waiting for my orientation, but I want to join the community. Is there anything else I can do?

Yes! We'd love to have you.

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