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Volunteer Reflects on 24 Years of Service

Meet Peter Coughlin PADS Shelter Site Manager

PADS Lake County is fortunate to have the support of over 3,000 incredible volunteers who make our work possible. We caught up with Peter Coughlin, a shelter site manager at St. Mary's of Fremont Center in Mundelein, to learn more about his experiences volunteering his time to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

How long have you been a PADS volunteer?

I started as a volunteer when our church started hosting a PADS site in 1996. Sue Poletto and others from the St. Mary women’s club had volunteered at the Ivanhoe Community Church PADS site. When that church could no longer be a site, Sue asked our pastor, Fr. Ron Lewinski, if we could host a PADS site, and he agreed. We have hosted a PADS site since Oct. of 1996. I have been one of our PADS volunteers ever since.

What inspired you to become volunteer?

Before the 1996-97 season started, two people from the PADS office hosted an information and training session at St. Mary church. It sounded like a good cause so I went and sat quietly in the back and listened. I gave them my contact information. I was asked to come the second week in October. I went and have been coming ever since.

What have you loved most about volunteering at the St. Mary’s of Fremont Center site?

I think I am like all long-term volunteers. I get more than I give. We have a group of very dedicated volunteers - many of whom are there every week. We are a family working together. We know what needs to be done. While each of us has our specialties, we just step in and do what needs to be done at the time. It is great working with all these volunteers. We see so many of the same guests week after week, and we become friends with many. Being a family site, it is difficult to see so many young children living in different sites every night of the week.

What is one thing that surprised you to learn about PADS?

After more than 20 years with PADS, I don’t think too much surprises me. I am always pleased by the dedication and ability of the PADS staff. They seem to know the clients very well and are in touch with all of the other various agencies that can help their clients.

Could you share a memorable experience you had as a volunteer?

In January 2000, Pioneer Press ran an article on PADS with pictures from our shelter. In one picture, Allison Hertel and my son, who was 10 at the time, were sitting on the floor listening to one of the guests. He was a Vietnam vet, as were so many of our homeless at the time. He just loved to talk and he needed someone to listen to him. My son really enjoyed the stories, and looked forward to volunteering every week to come listen to that one guest. When my son was in college at U of I, if he was home on a Wednesday, he would come to the site as one of our volunteers.

While I am often busy as the site manager, I do enjoy when I can take the time to listen to the guest’s story. Sometimes when a guest is new to PADS because of a traumatic incident in their life, they need to share their concerns and fears with someone. It is good to assure them that we will help them get through the night and that the PADS staff can help them with the resources to deal with the issue.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with other PADS volunteers?

Don’t let the difficult times get to you. With God’s help we can get through anything. There were years when Wednesday night had significantly fewer pads available than any other night. We were really overwhelmed at our site. I wasn’t sure that we could continue with so many people in such a small space. Somehow, we got through and now we are better able to serve our guests.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I am very happy that I sat in the back of that training and took the chance to show up that first Wednesday. It has been a great experience with the other volunteers, the guests, and the professional PADS staff. I think my life would be very different and less complete if I didn’t take that first step.

Thank you so much, Pete, for all that you do for our neighbors! Interested in joining Peter and our other fantastic volunteers in their mission to support folks experiencing homelessness in Lake County? Check out our volunteer opportunities!

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