“Capuchin Community Services is a ministry of the Capuchin Friars and is marking its 50th year serving the community. Part of our mission statement is to build sisterhood and brotherhood. We also try to empower others. That empowerment includes employees and volunteers, and both groups are our partners in ministry. These wonderful people take our mission and make it their own. For this, we are deeply grateful. Chuck Cmeyla came to us with a rich background of assisting the homeless out-of-state. Recently retired, he was willing to help where needed. We are grateful to him and all of our volunteers who give the ministry countless hours of their time.”
– Brother Rob Roemer, Ministry Director for Capuchin Community Services
Q&A with Chuck Cmeyla
What made you become a volunteer?
I was an advocate for the needy and homeless when we lived in Arizona. I retired six years ago from the geographic information systems (GIS) industry and returned to Milwaukee. I wanted to continue my work with the needy and homeless upon my return. I met with Capuchin Friar Brother Rob Roemer, ministry director of Capuchin Community Services. It was the perfect fit.
Describe Capuchin Community Services and the work they do.
Capuchin Community Services serves the poor, the hungry and the homeless from its two locations: House of Peace and St. Ben’s Community Meal.
ABOUT HOUSE OF PEACE: The House of Peace assists families and individuals in meeting their spiritual, material, and emotional needs. The House of Peace helps families remain together and promotes self-sufficiency. It provides food, clothing, and pastoral care to the poor plus houses the UWM House of Peace Community Nursing Center and Marquette University Legal Clinic that serves the same population.
ABOUT ST. BEN’S COMMUNITY MEAL: St. Bens Community Meal has been Milwaukee’s largest regular potluck dinner since 1970. 75 organizations, including churches, temples, and mosques, provide hot, home-made dishes six days a week to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Over 2,000 meals are served each week. Additional ministries include Columbia-St. Mary’s St. Ben’s Clinic that provides prevention-focused health care to those who cannot afford it, St. Benedict the Moor parish and jail ministry. All ministries are located at 9th and State Streets.
Capuchin Community Services is a Capuchin ministry and is part of the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph which is headquartered in Detroit, and serves Capuchin ministries worldwide.
What do you do as a volunteer?
I am one of many volunteers who pitch-in at the St. Ben’s location, every Wednesday afternoon, assisting the guests, most of whom are homeless. Along with my fellow volunteer, Cary Fellman, we run the eyeglass program. We fit guests with quality eye glasses for near sightedness or far sightedness. Without this assistance, the guest’s eyesight would remain compromised. The program is very popular and was created with the homeless and chronically poor in mind.
I have been fortunate enough to be a part of several teams and committees representing Capuchin Community Services. I’ve held leadership roles for the annual Capuchins’ Run Walk for the Hungry, bi-annual Point In Time count, and the annual Project Homeless Connect. I provide resource information for the homeless at the St. Ben’s meal program site along with being a member of the Capuchin Community Services’ ministry council. There have been times where I’ve helped with doing pick-ups & deliveries.
How long have you been a volunteer?
I have assisted the homeless community for nearly forty years with six years at Capuchin Community Services, since moving to Milwaukee.
What surprised you the most about volunteering?
It’s a humbling experience, helping the homeless. It makes me realize how fortunate I am. It is a great feeling to give back. We appreciate the same things in life and it’s wonderful to witness how quick people are to help others. Our eyeglasses cost $1.00 and so often a complete stranger will pay for another homeless person who cannot afford $1.00.
What new things have you learned through this volunteer opportunity? Has it had benefits for you?
My experience at Capuchin Community Services has shown me how to be more caring. I strive to recognize the true person inside. I want to learn more about myself and those that I am supporting. It’s been a great opportunity to meet remarkable people!
What experience stands out for you in working with those who are homeless?
Tony came to us, explaining he had very poor vision and could not see well. Our eyeglass procedure is to first find a comfortable eyeglass frame. We then work on the specific lens required. We slipped on the eyeglass frames and Tony proclaimed he could see! I explained we hadn’t gotten to the lens portion yet. He said it didn’t matter. He could see for the first time in years! I asked him if it was OK to insert plain, non-prescription lens. He said of course….because he could now see perfectly! He still has those eyeglasses and still says he can see just fine.
Would you recommend volunteering to others? If so, what would you tell them is the benefit they’d get from volunteering?
It’s highly satisfying. I suggest if anyone is looking for a volunteer opportunity that you determine how you want to contribute….and then find the organization in which you have a passion for their mission.