Volunteering: A Family Legacy
I was only four years old when I first started cracking eggs for the potato salad that would be served for the entire under privileged community of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. My dad would buy 500 pounds of potatoes, hundreds of eggs, 250 chickens to be roasted and served every year on Christmas Eve, for as long as we lived in Santiago. My main job was to help peel as many boiled eggs as I could, or wanted to, really. But I wanted to do it because I saw the passion with which my dad loved those people and reached out to them. Anybody reading this would think we were very well to do and had money to spare to feed an entire community. But we didn’t. All the money and volunteer hours donated to make this possible were a sacrificial act coming from people with very humble means themselves.
When I was nine years old we moved from Santiago to the city of Santo Domingo where my dad became part of an organization that provided social services to the churches (Servicio Social de Iglesias). This organization reached out to the neediest in the entire country using local churches as headquarters and church workers as the arms and legs of the community. I particularly remember how, on one occasion, those services became essential after Hurricane David in 1979. Hurricane David was a category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit the island since 1930 leaving 2,000 people dead in its path. The organization my dad headed set about to hand out food, fuel, and clothes to the victims all around the island. We set up shop in the back porch of our house, and my sisters and I helped sort out the clothes by size and organize some of the supplies so they would be ready to be distributed.
My dad’s heart was passionate about helping people and he transferred that passion to us. Volunteering is something we do, not just to beef up a resume or receive self-fulfillment, although there’s nothing wrong with that, but we mainly do it because we believe that our services will empower and enrich someone’s life and that they will be better off for it. We don’t do good because we are good people, we do it because we have received so much goodness ourselves that our cup is overflowing.
My mother, not to be left behind, also pours her life into people and is not shy about giving up her time and energy for the well-being of her community. For as long as I can remember, she has been making meals for the sick, taking care of children of those who are in a bind, and collecting money for the needy. She currently meets with a group of ladies that do a variety projects around town so that they can collect money to have on hand to help those whose electricity is getting turned off, to help a young mother who is unable to make her car payment, or to cover other necessities that may arise in the lives of those that are in need.
My grandmother use to spend most of her free time teaching young women how to sow so they could make a modest living – or at least be able to provide the basic need of clothing for their own families. “Volunteering,” my grandmother used to say, “connects you to others. Life is about connections. Solitude is valuable but only after we have spent time pouring our time and energy over others”. My sister Eunice agrees with my grandmother, as she volunteers a few hours a week teaching English to new immigrants and sometimes driving them around to apply for jobs or helping them find counseling services. She often says that volunteering not only allows us to touch the lives of people that are in need of these critical services, but also gives you the opportunity to make friends and even have fun.
You don’t need to rely on my grandmother’s or sister’s words to volunteer. You can also listen to the experts. They say that volunteering is good for the mind and body, infusing us with self-confidence and curving depression. Studies show that volunteering increases your happiness by up to 16% compared to people who never volunteered. I saw this happiness increase in the lives of my two boys, ages 7 and 10, just this spring break when I took them to Chicago to help with the Family Bridges Conference and Health Fair that is set up every year for the community. The two boys carried boxes, set up flags, put together easels, made signs, sorted out supplies and worked like two grown men from morning to night. If you ask them if they would have traded the work for a trip to Disney, after all it was their spring break, they would tell you “not in a million years.”
Our children do what we do and they take pleasure in giving back as much as any adult. So get your family in gear and start showing them how a compassionate heart is the most efficient way to change the world. Make volunteering a family legacy.