Downtown Emergency Services Center recognizes Awake in Action

by Larry Steele

Seattle Shambhala’s Awake in Action volunteers are basically good. In fact, they are the best. Ask anyone at the Downtown Emergency Services Center, which recently named Awake in Action as its 2018 Volunteer Group of the Year. Coordinator Sandra Noel and some of her team members accepted the award during a gala Breakfast of Champions breakfast in October.

Every month, usually on the last Sunday of the month, Shambhala’s AiA group visits the Union Hotel, one of DESC’s buildings that house previously homeless individuals with mental and addictive illnesses. AiA volunteers bring snacks and creative craft projects to help illuminate the lives of the residents. With a little glue and glitter, and a plate of cookies, they have become so popular that staff counselors would like to expand the Shambhala visits to other facilities.

“If we get more volunteers, we can do more,” said Noel, who has been involved in AiA since the beginning. AiA began with Adrienne Papermaster and other sangha members. Current volunteers include Michelle Bartel, Linn Bartel,  Linda Zahava, Stacy Hall De Gomez, and Vanessa Gaumer.

Ikebana created by a Union Hotel resident.

Ikebana Master Teacher Shelly Pierce and some of her students offer a floral workshop that is a favorite activity for the residents once a year.

The Union Hotel offers a safe space for its residents with various behavioral health conditions that would increase their danger of living on the street. Residents have their own room, access to showers, and one daily meal.

“We have learned it’s backward to focus on (behavioral health) treatment without first resolving a person’s homelessness,” said DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone in a recent Seattle Times op-ed article. “It works a lot better when we are able to get someone into stable, permanent housing.”

With eight years of experience befriending Union Hotel residents, Sandra Noel agrees. “If people want to address homelessness in this city they should talk to these people,” she said.

“What began as a temporary program has become a family affair. Some of our volunteers have been a part of AiA since the beginning and others come for periods of time. But all are happy to be with our friends at the Union, enjoying a meal together, drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, and participating  in the art projects and our end of the year holiday party,” said Noel.

“The art projects range from holiday-themed crafts including Halloween masks, Easter glass eggs with glitter as well as painting and drawing classes and of course the very popular Ikebana Floral Workshop. Each resident gets to make their own arrangement to take home.”

Members of Awake in Action accept the Volunteer Group of the Year award from Downtown Emergency Services Center.

Awake in Action has applied for a Pema Foundation grant, and also hopes its recent fundraising letter will raise $1,800 for supplies and snacks.

Union Hotel residents especially enjoy the annual Awake in Action holiday party. “We send out a list of about 18-20 gifts and each resident chooses three things. This way, they are likely to get something they want and need as opposed to a random choice by someone else. Each gift is wrapped with the resident’s name on it and these are given out at the party,” said Noel. “We serve holiday treats and have a great time!”

“The homelessness crisis is bad, especially, of course, for people living it. But it’s bad for the rest of us, too. Nobody likes being confronted with the obvious suffering of others,” said Malone.

Awake in Action offers a way for practitioners to integrate our meditation practice and our efforts to create Enlightened Society. It’s an opportunity to develop a deeper and more compassionate relationship with the world and to help create connections and community.


Interested in Volunteering? Awake in Action meets once a month at the Union Hotel. Contact Sandra Noel at for more information and to sign up to volunteer. 

Awake in Action is now fundraising to support their December gathering and purchase gifts for Union Hotel Residents this holiday season. Make a one-time donation in the “Awake in Action” field at and help them reach the $1,800 goal! 

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