Homeless Shelter Employee

Max Vumbaca ‘19

Concentration: Philosophy
House: Lowell
Hometown: Hopkinton, Mass.

Max Vumbaca works at First Church Shelter, a transitional homeless shelter in the Cambridge area, near Cambridge Common. Max, who is one of around 12 employees at the shelter, has worked there for a little over a year, including part-time work over the summer.

Max was drawn to the job because of his work at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, and First Church offered an opportunity to experience and serve a different side of the shelter system in Cambridge. His work is worthwhile and fulfilling, and he hopes to continue working in housing issues after he graduates this spring.

"My time working at First Church Shelter has overall been an exceptionally positive experience. It has not been without its challenges, but I have gotten so much enjoyment out of just getting to know the folks staying at the shelter. Having the time to sit and chat with guests there is very often a highlight of my week. Even at times when much of the rest of my Harvard experience feels stressful and pointless, I can count on my work at the shelter to feel rewarding, meaningful, and satisfyingly substantial,” he said.

Typically, Max works a 4-hour dinner shift at the shelter, but occasionally will also work a 12-hour overnight. At work, he “focus[es] on meeting the needs of the guests and ensuring that [the shelter] is a comfortable and welcoming environment for them,” he said. This includes keeping the space clean, cooking and serving meals, and fulfilling any other requests people may have. Once in a while, he’s also required to address safety concerns guests may have, or help with medical issues that arise. “The most important work is being friendly, helpful, and supportive as guests work towards getting housed,” Max said.

Aside from the gratifying feeling of serving the community, Max has learned both professional and personal skills because of his job. He’s learned more technical knowledge about the process for finding housing for those experiencing homelessness in the Boston area. Moreover, through working with guests, he says he’s progressed in his own development.

"I have learned more how to treat people with compassion and empathy, even when I have to enforce a rule or simply reckon with how little I can do to genuinely help. Hopefully that is a skill that will serve me in the future in my professional career and outside of it,” he said.

His most memorable moments on the job have all been moments spent interacting with others.

He said, “So many memorable conversations spring to mind, from hilarious jokes and fascinating discussions to honest and intimate stories...generally the moments when I was able to go above and beyond, to stay up late with a guest not feeling well, connect a guest to a service they really need, or surprise a guest with a special meal, are the memories I treasure most.”