Spontaneous Volunteers

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 12/17/2012

Thanksgiving is, by far, one of my favorite days of the year. I treasure the time spent breaking bread with my sister, Colleen Conceison, her husband, Bob, their children, Bobby Jr., MK (Mary Kathryn), Chrissy, Paul, and Bridgett, Bob’s niece, Kara, and anyone else who joins us. Our post-meal discussion always evolves into an opportunity to share what we are thankful for as we reflect on the previous year.

This year, my 24-year-old niece, Chrissy, on break from her service with AmeriCorps, shared a story, and I requested permission to share it with all of you.

Prior to returning home for Thanksgiving, Chrissy had been working on disaster relief in New Jersey and New York following SuperStorm Sandy. I received the following email from Chrissy a few days later:

After working the night shift (7pm-7am) in one of the Long Island shelters, my two co-workers and I were spent. It was going on about day 4 of no shower so the idea of going to bed finally with no shower seemed disgusting.

Like an angel sent to us, a woman walked in the building wearing an Irish knit sweater. Donna was offering her home to anyone who wanted to shower. This woman was unlike any other “spontaneous volunteer” to come through our shelter. She is an RN at a local hospital and came with just her stethoscope wanting to help out the nurses. When she found out that no medical help was needed, she offered her home and a hot shower. She lived 5 minutes from the school and was affected by the storm, but she had her power back. She wanted to volunteer to give back to her own community.

We walked into her house and I saw Irish blessings all over, pictures of her children, pictures of her grandchildren, and a lot of trinkets. She kept saying to us, “Don’t worry girlfriends, I will hook you up.” She did just that. She gave us her towels, soap, shampoo, and a hot shower. Once my shower was over, I sat on her couch and just teared up with all sorts of emotions. She made us hot tea and I just sat and talked with her while the other two showered, and learned so much about her, her family, and then she asked about all of us.

We sat with her until we were ready to go back to the shelter. She walked us back and continued to help out in the shelter where she felt it was necessary. Before I went to bed I hugged her with eyes full of tears and she just said, “You’re doing a great job. Keep up the good work.” That little confidence booster from a random stranger meant more than anything.

I often think about Donna and the fact that she was so willing to open her house to 3 AmeriCorps members who were exhausted and hadn’t showered in days. She just wanted to help in any way she could, and decided opening her home was the best way to do it. She has taught me that random acts of kindness go a long way.

On Thursday, 12/13/12, Chrissy graduated from AmeriCorps and was chosen by her peers to speak at the commencement ceremony. Here is an excerpt of her speech from within her blog.

Today was graduation day… I had the honor of being emcee, or “Ameridictorian” as my friends called it, for the ceremony. This is my speech I submitted to get chosen to speak…

It is hard to put into words exactly what the experience in NCCC  (National Civilian Community Corps) has been like. The only couple of words that I can possibly think of would be, ‘life changing’.

We started on February 27th where we entered a world that immediately I thought was MTV’s The Real World. We were strangers, picked to be in a program where people stop living their real life and start living in the ‘Ameriworld’, a world where real clothes were a thing of the past, and khaki and gray or green became something you wore, and wore it “looking good” daily.

Training could not have prepared us for what we were about to embark upon for the whole experience. Once we were assigned our permanent teams, we set out for our spikes (spikes are sites away from the main campus where teams establish temporary living arrangements for up to two months). Each day we were faced with adversity and we persevered. Our team became a family, a family that nobody else in the world would understand why. Spending each day together, working, eating, laughing, cooking, and dancing are experiences that cannot even be explained. You wouldn’t get half of the stuff each collective team went through unless you were on the team. I am forever changed because of the 8 members of my team, other team members, other team leaders, and our staff.

This program has taught me that when you think that you can’t, you can, and you realize you can because of your teammates. This program has taught me that no matter what is going on in your life, you will survive with the help of your team. This program has taught me that friendship goes beyond Massachusetts. Friendship is now in Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, Delaware and every other state in the country.

Most importantly, this program has taught me that you have a family you are born into and a family you create for yourself. I can honestly say that I come from a large family, but now it has significantly grown because of this program. I would not change this experience, every tear, every laugh, every terrible singing and dancing session in the van, every fight, every ISP(Independent Service Projects), every home gutted, every trail blazed, every ride with Roe, every tire slashed, every glass block installed, every WPR (Weekly Progress Report), every piece of drywall installed, every sleeping situation and every day with my team and others, for anything. How do you sum up what I have experienced in NCCC into words? You can’t, you have to live it to understand.

I was so happy I got to address the Corps as emcee for the ceremony. It meant the world to me.

I have met some of the most amazing people in the last 10 months. I am forever changed by each and every person I have met in the last 10 months. I am so grateful I have a supportive family that allowed me to leave a full-time job making money, to be in a national community service volunteer program. I am so thankful for my best friends, 5 girls I can now NEVER live without. I am thankful for my team and the year we had together. The members of River Ten will forever hold a place in my heart.

Tonight is the last night in Vicksburg (MS), our little community. I remember the night before I left home, we all googled Vicksburg and I was more nervous because of what I saw, different things than Burlington (MA). Weird. Now, I am in love with our little city. The sunsets, the Mississippi river, Highway 61 Coffee, The Tomato Place, Biscuit Company, Duff’s, Roe’s Cab service, and especially the Southern Region Campus. You can’t really explain this to anyone. I love the south, and I am moving the second I find work down here.

As I reflect on the last 10 months, I am realizing I am a totally different person than I was in February. I am happier, more open-minded, more skilled, and my cooking is at it’s prime. I really am trying my best to think of a good way to sum up what I am feeling, and what I have experienced the last 10 months, but I am at a loss for words. This program has meant the world to me and I am so happy that I joined. I will forever be an AmeriCorps member, and I will try my hardest to “get things done” even outside of my “A” uniform…

…I am going to end this post with a quote that was read at graduation, but is one of my absolute favorites. I thought about it a lot while in the program, and it has helped me through some of my days where I wanted to quit.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss

Thank you, Donna, for exemplifying the importance of “spontaneous volunteerism”, and kindness.

Welcome home, Chrissy. Congratulations, and thank you for your tremendous service to our country. I am so proud of you, and love you very much.

Server Not Servant readers, please join the conversation, and share your experiences of how “spontaneous volunteers” have helped you with acts of kindness. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that can turn our world around and restore our faith in humans. Thank you.

One Response to “Spontaneous Volunteers”

  1. Dr. Hank says:

    Well done. Good to read a success story in these sad times. My heart is heavy w/Newtown so fresh, so this was good to read.

Leave a Reply

Permalink | Posted in Human-to-Human Service | 1 Comment »