If you’ve visited a County building lately, it’s easy to see that employees are feeling festive. Like most places this time of year, our holiday spirit has taken the form of garland and festive lights.

But what you might not see is the way the holiday spirit shapes our involvement in the community – working with our partners to make sure our clients have an extra special holiday, volunteering with local nonprofits, and even collecting items to donate. County employees give “gifts” like this every day, but here is one of the stories behind the gift.

Alice Wirz spends her time Monday through Friday working as a substance abuse coordinator for the County’s Health Department. But, it’s her activities after hours that have captured the attention of many of her clients and coworkers.

Mecklenburg County Public Health employee Alice Wirz serving community.

Wirz volunteers as a coordinator for the “Room in the Inn” program at St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte. The program provides food, clothing and shelter for one night in the church’s gym for homeless men and others in need – a demographic Wirz knows all too well. “It’s a good fit for me because a lot of the clients that I see in the community are homeless,” said Wirz.

Wirz’s position as a substance abuse coordinator takes her to 12 different sites across the County where she administers testing for people trying to overcome addictions. She said she’s not surprised when she runs into her clients while volunteering. “I often see men who had been through substance abuse programs and they’ll spend the night at our church,” said Wirz.

She seems to think her volunteer work helps to strengthen the bond with her clients. “When they see you there not because you have a job to do but because you want to be there, I think it gives them an extra level of trust,” said Wirz.

Wirz is one of 80 volunteers and even though she serves as one of the coordinators, she is often pulled into many of the daily duties to help keep the program running smoothly. “I do everything from driving the van, to cooking, to laundry and everything else,” said Wirz.

The program only runs four months out of the year. It’s a huge job but Wirz said it’s manageable.  Even though she’s volunteering her time, Wirz said she’s getting something out of it too.  “They share stories with me that are very meaningful and have helped me in my spiritual journey,” said Wirz. “It’s just a blessing to be able to do this.”