“We’re like family”
Don and Charlotte Berg are at Transform Burien most days. You can find them in the kitchen, sorting donated clothes, operating the laundry facilities—or you can find them simply talking to the many people who walk through their doors every day. Both Charlotte and Don describe the people Transform Burien serves as their friends or “like family.” The feeling appears to be mutual as many of the clients Transform Burien serves greet them as “Mom” and “Pop”.
“They both have a passion for helping needy individuals in our community and getting to know them as people,” said Charles Schaefer, who nominated the Bergs for the Citizen of the Year award.
From the beginning
Don, a retired technical writer, was part of the original volunteer crew who formed Transform Burien 15 years ago. Transform Burien started when two local churches, who were already running a clothing bank, decided they wanted to begin feeding people as well.
“The very first meal that they served, I was there,” said Don. “The adults were cooking and the youth from Highline Christian Church served the meals.”
Charlotte start volunteering a few years later, after hearing from someone in her Bible study group that they needed help sorting clothes. Charlotte, who had recently retired from running a daycare and preschool, said, “I don’t want to just sit around and do nothing.”
What started as volunteering once per week in the clothing bank turned into serving as the intake coordinator for all donated goods and running the clothing bank. Charlotte also works with and trains new volunteers.
When asked what motivates her to keep going, she said, “I got to know the homeless guys and the homeless women, they’ve become my family. We’re just really close. They feel like we’re just family. That’s what motivates me is keeping so close to everybody.”
Transform Burien eventually grew and is now supported by more than a dozen local churches, who all provide volunteers.
“It’s just grown on me,” says Don. “It changed me dramatically. It changed how I look at homeless people.”
Today, Charlotte trains and organizes teams of volunteers to manage a clothing bank. Don manages the kitchen and laundry services. Don runs the laundry program and leads preparation of meals several days per week.
During the pandemic, the organization was without an executive director. Don and Charlotte stepped in to keep Transform Burien running. They helped manage the move from the Burien Annex to a building owned by Highline Public Schools.
“We only missed serving one meal during that time,” said Don.
Now, with a new executive director, and in a new home at the former Sunnydale Elementary School, their services are growing. Both LEAD and REACH programs, which help connect people experiencing homelessness to services, make regular stops at Transform Burien. Mobile showers, medical and dental vans, and other providers also connect with the organization.
Don and Charlotte both praise these services and the help they provide. They also have something to say to those who may want to become a volunteer.
“Be open minded. It takes time to get to know people. Get to know them and you’ll find out you like them.”