The last six weeks of the year is a time when people who feel blessed in life typically give back to their communities. In the spirit of the holidays, people volunteer at food banks or work with those who are less fortunate. At United Way, we decided to ask our employees and community members to share, in their own words, a memorable volunteer experience they’ve had. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing some of them here in the blog. Jay Wilkes, is Director Crisis Preparedness, Response & Recovery.
“I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia from 2003 – 2006, and as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in El Salvador from 2007 – 2008. Prior to my first volunteer service abroad, I thought I knew exactly what I was going to be doing. When my friends and family asked, I often gave them the “quick and dirty” response: “I am going overseas to help poor people.” I didn’t know then just how assuming and wrong that statement would eventually become.
While I was able to help the communities where I lived meet a few shared goals, the biggest take-aways from my Peace Corps Volunteer experience were the relationships I developed and continue to maintain. I made friends that I will have for the rest of my life; I still have friends, colleagues, students, and even my “mom” (my village school’s oldest teacher) call and email me to talk about work, ask for advice, or just gab about local happenings. While this may seem trivial, it was the backbone of my volunteer experience; without these relationships with community members, we never would have been able to furnish that classroom, plant that garden, or set up those health clinics.
My most recent volunteer experience was at St. Vincent’s Day Home in West Oakland. I spent the day washing classroom chairs with staff and the local children they serve. While hosing and scrubbing down the classroom furniture was wet, silly fun, the real value of the experience came when we weren’t actually working. The best part of the volunteer experience that day was talking with the kids, staff and other volunteers, seeing the positive role that St. Vincent’s plays in the community. Similar to my Peace Corps Volunteer experience, I left feeling as though I had gotten to know my community at a much deeper level; I saw (albeit briefly) the importance of the relationships between local children, parents and staff. I saw the needs of this community and how organizations like St. Vincent’s are able to address them.
It experiences like this, not necessarily the work, that keep me volunteering in the Bay Area.”