Benedictine Sisters of Erie Home Home

Meet SBEC Volunteers

Bill and Marilyn Reiser

Bill and Marilyn Reiser, SBEC Volunteers

One morning, Bill Reiser offered to substitute for his sister, Marilyn, at her volunteer workplace Treasures and Such. He was impressed with the volunteers and discovered the satisfaction of helping the participants at SBEC. Today he is a “regular” at the store and has mastered a new currency – “Benny Bucks."

Not just a shop where clothing and household items can be purchased, Treasures and Such is an integral component of the education experience at SBEC. Many of the customers at the store are refugees and this is a living laboratory where the students learn the practices of commerce in their new land. For example, some will try to barter which is customary in their native land. Here they learn that the price stands. “Sometimes we have to demonstrate the use of a product. It is not uncommon to have customers who have never seen a toaster or a hairdryer.” explains Marilyn.

Even the Benny Bucks used in the store are used as part of the educational program. Benny Bucks are earned when students complete certain assignments or achieve a level of proficiency in their learning programs. These students discover that time-on-task is rewarded and this unique currency provides them the encouragement to persist in their learning. Like shoppers everywhere, they delight in finding a much-needed item in the store, must be mindful of their budget, and then calculate the cost of a purchase. Bill describes the whole enterprise as a “very orderly out-reach and education program that makes solid efforts to impact” the lives of these immigrants. “Their lives are very difficult and they work very hard.”

“Communication is often challenging with the refugee population. Accents are strong and English is weak, but it’s so rewarding”, explains Marilyn. “I see the growth process before my eyes as people come to the store week after week.” Bill especially enjoys it when the people come in to report good news in their lives: “We help them pick out a suit for an interview or we celebrate when they get a job offer. It’s so very touching that they return to let us know how they are doing.”

Both Bill and Marilyn have noted the generosity of the Erie community. “One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the donations we receive at the store. All items (link to the wish list) must be sorted, priced, and displayed for sale.” There are also special collections during the seasons of Advent and Lent which bring a bumper crop of clothing, household items, cleaning products and personal hygiene items.

Volunteers often describe how their eyes have been opened as a result of their work. As Bill tells it, “I certainly have developed empathy for the clients here who are trying to make a life away from the troubles in their own land. I pass this along to others and encourage them to get involved.” Marilyn notes that “they are not German or Polish or Irish, but they are seeking the same things as did our ancestors. We must be open to them and meet them where they are.” Indeed we must.