Alley Harkness was raised to give back, and since graduating from Salve Regina University last May, she found a job that allowed her to launch a career in community service. Lucy’s Hearth, which provides clients with safe shelter and a path to a stable future and a home of their own, was the perfect fit. As the organization prepares for a virtual version of its annual “Fall for Lucy’s Hearth” fundraiser, Harkness spoke of her role as the children’s activity coordinator and the mission of Lucy’s Hearth.
What did you study at Salve Regina and when did you graduate?
I graduated in 2020 [with a] double major in Philosophy and English Communications, but I spent most of my free time in the Center for Community Engagement and Service, and volunteering around the community. I was a service advocate at Salve, committed to a program where I spent at least 100 hours each school year volunteering at the Salvation Army. The program allowed me to make a positive difference in the lives of the less fortunate and furthered my love of helping others.
What was your introduction to Lucy’s Hearth?
I volunteered a few hours there as part of a service trip. I got to play with the children and I immediately fell in love. The kids were full of so much love for college students that they were meeting for the first time, and it was clear that we were having a positive impact on their lives.
How did you make the leap to employee?
I heard about the position from Kelly Powers, the director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service at Salve, and she thought it would be a perfect
position for me. I applied, but was hoping even if I wasn’t hired, that I could still [find] volunteer opportunities because I loved being there so much.
Tell us about your role.
As the children’s activity coordinator, I plan and implement activities for children, infant to 17. I do my best to make sure the children are in an environment where they feel safe and welcomed, and that these activities promote the children’s physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development. In the strange time of COVID, we can’t offer group activities, so I really have to create more opportunities for individual children and families. Sometimes, a child from a bigger family will just want to have someone listen to their needs, thoughts and feelings, and I provide that listening ear as we do an arts and crafts project. Other children have a lot of energy and I love being able to run around outside with them. Every child is important and it can be difficult for [them] to know their worth, especially living in a shelter or in a difficult family situation. I do my best to make sure every child knows how much they matter. In the three months I’ve been the children’s activity coordinator, I’ve also been a pirate, a lava monster, a princess, a ninja, every superhero imaginable, a zombie, a robot, a teacher, a cop, a robber, even a rock. But most importantly, I’ve been a friend. I also help make sure the kids are registered for school, and I offer homework help to make sure they are getting their work done. Lastly, I make sure the kids have healthy snacks and drinks.
What are the most important programs and services that Lucy’s provides in addition to safe shelter?
We want our residents to succeed not only in Lucy’s but afterwards,
so they can provide for themselves and their children in the future. Our case managers and housing navigator help residents with job applications, housing applications, budget planning, and contacting outside resources like psychiatrists, doctors and other providers. The clinician helps those seeking therapy. The children’s activities also allow the parents to catch up on applications, chores or sleep. We have a food pantry for clients, and a community assistance program for essentials like toiletries and diapers.
Where do you see your career going from here?
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved helping people. My parents have always been such kind and generous people. I grew up learning to give of myself and help others. In every position I’ve been in throughout my life, I have found joy in helping others, no matter who they are, so wherever I end up, I just hope to be helping those in need. If I could make a living from volunteering my time to help the less fortunate, I would do that in a heartbeat.
How can the community help fulfill Lucy’s Hearth’s mission?
Our mission is to provide comprehensive programs and services to homeless families in a safe, supportive environment that promotes family health and stability and increases self-sufficiency in order to achieve permanent, affordable housing. Because of COVID, right now it is difficult for volunteers and outside groups to come in to help us. The best way the community can help now is to continue to support us so we can give our residents the resources they need. We are also always open to ideas for how community members can get involved virtually to help our residents.
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