Phyllis Rowe is a retired government employee and refugee center worker. A self-proclaimed full time volunteer, she has experience working with the Gateway Center and other organizations on a regular basis. She has made a lifelong commitment to serving others in the community.
Hi Phyllis, can you tell me about your background?
I’m from New York City and moved to Massachusetts where I met my husband of 52 years in French Club. We moved to Talladega, Alabama in 1971 when the maps still had “C for Colored”. My husband taught at a Talladega College, a HBCU. At 27 years old and with 4 kids I decided to return to school at where my husband taught. Post graduation I went to work for the government in Social Security for 28 years before retiring. The week after I retired I decided that I wanted to do more and went to work at a refugee center for 4 years before finding myself at the Gateway Center.
What is your volunteer role at the Gateway Center?
I run the clothing closet. The clothing closet provides an opportunity for people to get a change of clothes for free and with no strings attached. I’ve been with the Gateway Center for the last four and half years. I am at the Gateway Center 3-4 days a week and we work until the last person is served. 2-3 days a week I’ll go to different stores and pick up clothing for the Clothing Closet. On Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays I usually do pick ups and bring them to Gateway.
What do you enjoy most about working with the community?
My background is rooted in Judaism and we were raised to focus on making the world a better place. I like working with non-profits because the focus is beyond money. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be able to provide someone with something they might not ordinarily have, I hate saying no to others so if someone asks for something I’ll usually go to the store and get it for them or if I see something on sale at the grocery store I’ll point it out to others. Sometimes it’s a lot of simple things, but we were raised to make the world a better place and we don’t question it.
What is your favorite part of working at Gateway?
The relationships I’ve made. Sometimes people will come in a say I need a pair or shoes and a pair of pants but first I need a hug, and that’s my favorite part.
What’s something that’s been difficult for you working at Gateway?
If we have an abundance of any particular articles, I will tend to give out more, but the only difficult part is the times I can’t provide as much as someone would like. People will get upset if they can’t get what they want but I always say that if somebody takes extra that may mean someone else may not get anything at all. It’s hard when people blame me, but it’s even harder when I have to tell someone that I can’t give them a pair of underwear because we don’t have any. However, I do try to go to thriftstores and purchase items that we particularly need such as
underwear on sale days. I try to be flexible as often I as can, but it’s difficult when we can’t get someone what they need.
What do you like to do outside of work?
(Phyllis laughs) Well a lot of what I do ties into my work like shopping – because 90% of what I buy ends at the Gateway Center. I’ve also spent every Sunday these past 8 years picking up donated bread from a local bakery and distributing it to local foodbanks/refugee centers. My tombstone will read “she never paid full price for anything other than maybe groceries…sometimes.”
What advice to you have for others?
For me the greatest pleasure in life is giving and doing for others. I feel fortunate that my folks emphasized doing a good job in whatever we’re going to do. I’ve done waitress work, clean bathrooms, the whole gambit. However, if you take pride in what you’re doing it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It’s a mindset and it depends on and affects your outlook.
Also be careful with your health and keep up with it! It’s a matter of health education and you get a lot more of that education when you grow older.
Written by Neil Ren, GWC Intern, Summer 16