Every interviewee brought up feeling a need to participate in volunteer work or give back to the community through small acts of kindness. When asked about this sentiment, they all talked about how they feel a need to give back because they know what it is like to struggle. They do not view charity or helping someone as a hand-out, they viewed it as a hand up in a time of need. Wilbur comments on this idea of a hand up versus a hand out when he says:

I’m going down the road, come on I’ll give you a hand, let’s go. But I’m not gonna put you in the wagon and pull you down the road and when I get down there I’ll tell somebody you’re up here but I ain’t coming back this way.  So I would say give me a hand up not out. Fletcher is trying to get somebody here, give us here, give me here a hand up and the fact that, yeah here’s a place to stay, right now.  And a hand out would be ok, you can stay here forever. But I don’t want to stay here forever.[1]


Wilbur feels like it is his duty to help people along the way when he is able, but not go so far out of his way to help that he puts himself in a bad position.

All the participants expressed a strong internal desire to help others in times of need throughout their interviews. When talking about giving back to the community, Evette expressed how she feels about giving back to people as something she does on a daily basis.

It gives you a level of satisfaction in your life. You know, it makes you feel good when you come in, when I looked at and I see where I used to live at and when I say you know,  “Living underneath the bridge was worth it.” Would I do it again? No, absolutely not. And would I tell anybody? No, no. But I would like to go back and help the people that are underneath there – if I could get on some type of program or something like that. Whenever you come from a homeless situation whether you’re a vet or not, you always have a sense of wanting to give back, all the time and that’s important…[2]


She feels a need to give back because she knows what it is like to be in a compromising situation. She also talks about what she receives when she gives in the form of happiness and satisfaction. When Don was talking about his volunteer work with the Boy Scouts and the motor scooter repair company, he said:

…and you see that glow, and their eyes light up, it makes me want to cry because the simple fact is I’m soft-hearted, and if you’re happy, boy, I’m bubbling over with happiness.  Even though someone gave it to you, I helped make you happy because of my knowledge.[3]


Most related that one reason they give back to people is because it makes them happy or makes them feel satisfied, thus giving them a feeling of belonging in a community where they fit with a marginalized population. On the topic of why he gives back Wilbur says, “Yeah, that is my mission in life, to help my fellow man, or whatever.  But that’s what I’m here for.”[4]  They do not see their actions for others as a sacrifice, but rather as an act to build themselves and the other individual up, thus contributing to their overall happiness. [5]

[1] Evans, Wilbur. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Video. Richmond. March 18, 2016.

[2] Lewis, Evette. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 16, 2016.

[3] Nettles, Don. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 18, 2016.

[4] Evans, Wilbur. Interviewed by Kelsey Glander. Richmond. Video. March 18, 2016.

[5] Singer, Peter. The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 103