Solid Footing: An Interview with Gary Short
For 27 years, volunteers staffing the foot clinics of the Medical Volunteers of Cincinnati have washed and cared for the feet of thousands and thousands of individuals, primarily those who are homeless and the working poor. Clients receiving the foot care leave the clinic in new socks and new shoes, and with a new sense of renewal. Gary Short has been a foot clinic volunteer for more than 23 years. For the past four years, he has directed the program. He is a senior customer service manager with General Electric.
LYGHTEL ROHRER: What brought you to serve in this capacity with the foot clinics?
GARY SHORT: The foot clinics nourish my soul—although yesterday was a challenge. We were running late and short of volunteers. We decided to take the easy road, what I call foot wash lite, in order to try to get to as many clients as possible. But then we were presented with feet that were made for a foot clinic! No details are necessary, but I can tell you that the satisfaction that I received from doing what we do, in a short time period, with grateful clients walking out with new socks and shoes and a smile, stayed with me throughout the evening.
LR: I take it then that you would welcome more volunteers.
GS: As with any organization that replies heavily on volunteers, our foot clinics at times are a little short-handed. Other times, we are fully staffed. But, yes, we are always open to bringing new volunteers on board. We also welcome donations! One hundred percent of money donated to the foot clinics goes toward the purchase of foot washing supplies, new socks, and new shoes.
LR: When and where do you hold the clinics?
GS: We run the clinics October through March in residential and day shelters. We have nine clinics per month in eight different locations throughout Cincinnati, in the city of Hamilton, and in Northern Kentucky. Most recently, we have started holding clinics at the beautiful Hatton Center for Women and the Barron Center for Men.*
We hold most of the clinics on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, but we also have some afternoon clinics.
LR: How are the clinics staffed and where do your volunteers come from?
GS: Each clinic is staffed by eight to ten volunteers and consists of people from the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, General Electric, The Procter & Gamble Company, hospitals and other volunteer organizations.
LR: Who are the people you serve? Who comes to the clinics?
GS: Last year, we served 388 men and 179 women through 40 clinics in eight locations. Fifty-seven of those we served were veterans. The oldest was 78. The youngest was 17, a young man on his way to college. He had been staying with his mother in one of the local shelters.
LR: Describe a typical clinic.
GS: The teamwork at each clinic is amazing. The volunteers show up and immediately pitch in to help with the setup and the registration. We then begin the individual care, starting by washing the feet and then ending with a shoe fitting.
Our experience in January at a winter shelter was a typical evening for us—over 40 people signed up for care that night. We had over 20 volunteers and everyone was very busy. The chatter, the energy, and the fellowship in the room was very high, until one client came back into the room after having been fitted with new shoes. He called for quiet and then expressed a very heartfelt thank you for the compassion and the care he had just received.
Anyone is welcome to visit a clinic and experience the appreciation that the homeless men and women have for this service.
* The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women is a 60-bed homeless shelter located in Mt. Auburn. The David and Rebecca Barron Center for Men, a 150-bed shelter, is located in Queensgate. Both city of Cincinnati shelters opened last year, and both supply support services to help individuals who are homeless secure regular income and move into permanent housing.
For more information about the foot care clinics of the Medical Volunteers of Cincinnati, contact director Gary Short.
Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer