Renee Hooks, a volunteer at Bishop William M. Cosgrove Center, a ministry of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, was named by the Center for Community Solutions as one of Greater Cleveland’s Most Treasured Volunteers.
She is one of six volunteers from various organizations around the city to receive the award, which is presented annually by the center to recognize hardworking individuals dedicated to improving Cleveland’s local communities.
Hooks has volunteered for three years at the Cosgrove Center, a day drop-in center for individuals in the Cleveland area who are experiencing poverty and homelessness. While the inside of the center remains closed to guests due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, staff and volunteers continue to provide modified services, including pantry distributions and packaged meals served outside of the building Monday through Friday.
From preparing to packing meals, cleaning the kitchen and assisting with the center’s Clothing Closet, she has volunteered daily at the Cosgrove Center. Catholic Charities USA also recognized her dedication earlier this year, when she was nominated for the organization’s Volunteer of the Year award.
Hooks said her commitment to the Cosgrove Center comes from her love and connection to the people it serves, as she, too, was once homeless and a guest herself.
“My heart goes out to the families, the women, the men,” Hooks said. “Because I've been there.”
Her lived experience also helps her connect with guests on a deeper level. After her husband died unexpectedly in 2015, Hooks struggled with substance use and found herself in a women's shelter just a few blocks from the center.
“It was like God had brought me down here to give me hope again, to give me motivation,” she said.
Even as a guest at the Cosgrove Center, Hooks always offered to volunteer wherever help was needed. She does the same now, but what's most important to Hooks is talking with the guests and showing them that she cares.
“Just somebody to say, ‘Good morning. How are you doing?’ That really makes a person’s day,” she said. “If it’s just one word, or that smile, they need that. I just thank God that I'm happy to do that for them.”
In addition to Hooks, the 2020 Most Treasured Volunteer are Judge Chris McMonagle, volunteer at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry; Julie Rea, volunteer at Seeds of Literacy; Maggie Rice, volunteer at Food Not Bombs; Tom Stevens, volunteer at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry; and Frances Tyus, board member at Joseph's Home.
The Center for Community Solution announced the awardees during its Celebration of Human Services event, which took place virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Most Treasured Volunteer awards began in 1984, and since then nearly 300 people in the Cleveland area have been honored for their dedication to volunteering, the vast majority of them at nonprofit human services organizations. Awardees are nominated by nonprofit agencies, have ranged in age from 14 to 97, and have done just about every type of volunteer service.
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, is one of the largest comprehensive health and human services organizations in the region. It delivers more than 150 services at 60 locations to 400,000-plus individuals each year – providing help and creating hope for people of every race and religion throughout the eight counties in the Diocese of Cleveland.