Whether we start our day with an invigorating shower or end the day with a soothing bath, we all know how much better we feel when we wash away dirt and odors and put on clean clothes. Yet, for people who are experiencing homelessness, finding a place to perform the simple task of washing up can be extremely challenging. Last month, Catholic Charities celebrated the one-year anniversary of our shower program at the St. Vincent Center on LaSalle Street. Since the showers opened last June, hundreds of people have experienced the refreshing joy and new hope that a warm shower can bring. Catholic Charities modeled the showers and accompanying laundry facilities after those created by Pope Francis on the grounds of the Vatican. As the Holy Father explains, the showers and laundry are a concrete way to recognize the humanity and dignity of our brothers and sisters who are experiencing homelessness, and to show God’s love and tenderness to people who are too often overlooked. Almost entirely staffed by dedicated volunteers, Catholic Charities’ Pope Francis Ministries include the showers and the laundry, as well as our evening supper program, which has been providing hot meals to the hungry and homeless for nearly two decades. What a blessing these ministries are for us to, in Pope Francis’ words, use “our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hands to care” for those in need of friendship and a helping hand. We know that we are giving much more than food or place to clean up. Being seen and heard by our caring volunteers is profoundly transformative for our guests who feel welcomed and wanted . One of the main reasons we started the shower program is that we would often hear from our evening supper guests that they were embarrassed to apply for jobs, show up for work or attend counseling or medical appointments when they had not showered or were wearing dirty clothing. We realized that not only was offering a place to shower and change into fresh clothing a beautiful way to offer mercy and grace to our guests, but could be, for many of our brothers and sisters, a critical first step in ending homelessness. People sign up for the private shower and bathroom in half-hour increments. When guests arrive, they are warmly greeted by volunteers and given a fresh towel and wash cloth; new socks and underwear; shower shoes; and individual-sized toiletries including soap, shampoo, razor and shaving cream, toothbrush and toothpaste and deodorant. Before their shower, guests are invited to select a new outfit from our clothing room. On days when we have volunteers to staff the laundry, guests can sign up to have their clothing, blankets and other personal items washed, and then come back to pick them up later in the day. Currently, the showers are being offered three days a week and laundry is offered one day a week. However, with more donations and more volunteers, we could do more. Volunteers sign up in roughly three-hour shifts (9:45 a.m.-1 p.m.) and can come every week, every month or on an occasional basis. Needed donations include small or travel-sized toiletries, new socks and underwear and gently used clothing — particularly men’s pants and shoes in larger sizes. Gathering donations would be a great project for school and service groups. It is amazing to watch the transformation in people as they walk out of the shower with their heads held high, looking and feeling great. Sharing a warm welcome and a warm shower can truly be the first step in restoring a person’s dignity and providing hope for the future. We are so grateful to our donors and volunteers who have made this small act of kindness and grace available to those in need. To donate goods or volunteer for the showers or laundry, contact Andrew McKernin at email@example.com or 312-655-7557.