In response to a trend-shift in Volunteers interested in serving more in the East than Midwest, LVC has found itself without enough Volunteers to fill its Twin Cities, MN houses.
The rich history with Winona, Redeemer, and Wellstone goes back years. Each house is connected to a Lutheran church support congregation that adds unique and special support to Volunteers over their service year; and all have LVC alumni who continue to serve on church councils, staff, and related church nonprofits. All of the houses and relationships are spiritual, emotional, and material assets for LVC’s program — yet for August 2021, the continued decline in Twin Cities Volunteers means one house will remain empty.
Redeemer House has been a beloved sanctuary for years of LVC Volunteers in Twin Cities, connecting us with Redeemer Lutheran Church on Glenwood Avenue, and being the launchpad for many Volunteers placed at the church’s nonprofit, Redeemer Center for Life.
In the last four years, LVC has seen interest shift from approximately 25 Volunteers in Twin Cities to about 9 in 2021; with increased interest from program applicants in Washington, DC in particular, and the east in general — for previously harder to fill cities like Baltimore and Wilmington, DE, too. While previous applicants were mostly from the midwest, there’s been a quick rise in applicants from the south and eastern U.S., who now make up about 50% of Volunteers.
COVID-19 and racial unrest in the year of George Floyd played a part in Twin Cities, causing many Twin Cities Placements to exit in response to financial uncertainties, raising caution about safety among applicants, and reducing opportunities for volunteer service in the region.
LVC simultaneously began building Placement relationships in the East in response to increased applicant interest in immigration and legal justice, while also adding virtual-only positions that were just as strong in skill and career development.
But rental housing in the Washington, DC region almost doubled in cost during COVID, and LVC was unable to meet applicant demand with existing rental housing; and unable to find affordable housing to increase the number of rooms. A new flexible arrangement will move virtual-only Volunteers that want housing to our Omaha hub to serve together, wherever their virtual-position is located. This will be offered for the first time in August 2021, and virtual-only Volunteers will still have the option of serving from their own hometown. LVC also added virtual-only positions in Washington, DC to meet applicant interest in the region without needing additional housing.
Another trend is that the height of Volunteer applications shifted from January, to June and July, as young adults made later decisions about serving. This challenges LVC’s need to know early what the new program year will look like and how finances will support ongoing operations — and challenges our housing partners who also need to plan accordingly. LVC’s shift toward more flexibility means welcoming Volunteers as late as August, increasing uncertainty but — as we found in the last two years — preventing even more house or region closures based on enrollment data collected too early in the season.
The trends have been stressful, to be true. LVC opens and closes houses based on Volunteer enrollment, as it can’t afford to keep vacant rental housing. As for choosing the house to close in Twin Cities when there is no obvious choice, the decision has been painful.
THERE’S GOOD NEWS. Redeemer and LVC have agreed to continue communicating over the next year, with Redeemer seeking temporary options for using the space, to keep it available for LVC in August 2022 when enrollment might increase in the region again. LVC will keep Redeemer apprised of enrollment trends through next year.
As LVC tries to acknowledge the blessing and find the opportunity, we are thankful for the unique relationship with Redeemer Lutheran Church and its Redeemer House, that have worked — and continue to work — with us as partners in mission. Our Volunteers’ lives will be impacted by their LVC experience and memories there, hopefully for years to come.