My friend Jenn and I met in a youth group organization in our teens. She always considered me a ‘little sister’ and I can remember many hours spent with friends working on community service projects and attending events together. Somehow, life reconnected us over twenty-five years later in San Diego, California. She’s the reason for our participation in a spectacular build day and for an introduction to some amazing people with whom we hope to continue to connect. Volunteering is good for the soul.
This build day had many familiar elements. People show up to help in any way they can. Some check people in while some swing a hammer, some order food while others work in a garden, some clean the area while others continue to restock supplies – everyone is needed. There are team leaders and someone who knows the ins and outs of the project down to the last nail. And no matter the job, at the end of the day, participants are tired, dirty, sweaty and fulfilled.
In New York, we worked with representatives from Race2Rebuild, Rebuilding Together, Homeland Security, Team Rubicon and Team RWB. This time around, it was BAE Systems and The Mission Continues. CEOs work alongside staff, skilled labourers work alongside those who have limited build experience…your background doesn’t matter…only your name, your character and that fact that you showed up do. Veterans and civilians coming together to do good for the local community and in San Diego…that was no different! The whole process reminds me of a high school event I was involved in called SING. Beginning in Brooklyn, New York, this battle of the classes style theatrical production is completely student run, organized and participated. Adult advisors oversee logistics, budgeting, publicity and mentorship, but teenagers run the show. Hard to see a connection between a school theatrical production and a burly build day? Here’s what I love about them both.
Both give everyone a spot, a purpose and an opportunity. SING needs actors, directors, writers, creators, artists, techies, builders, designers, dancers and extra people for all and sundry. Each person’s talents and involvement are valued and in the end, no matter the difficulties, the players realize that the event came together because of teamwork. Everyone mattered. Without sound, makeup, logistics, a program, a script, an actor, a set, food, a director, an artist, t-shirts and so many other people’s efforts, nothing would have happened. Showing up, raising your hand, stepping in, holding something, sweeping something, running lines, electrical knowhow, musical talent, lighting ability…all of it no matter how inconsequential one thinks it might be…all of it matter. Build days remind me of that good feeling.
About one hundred people came and went from the pocket park in Logan Heights, San Diego this past Saturday. Designed by architects, this project brought together community members, volunteers, military veterans, workers at a defense contractor and young adults. In a few short hours there were benches built, boards sanded, tables stained and painted, nails hammered, beds raised, people fed, children entertained, climbing units erected, memories created, talents repurposed, commitments reestablished and friendships made. Every job, no matter how small it might seem, mattered. If you carried the cups, entertained the kids, swung a hammer, carried out safety checks, got the tape, wrote out name tags, made someone laugh, took the photos, moved some dirt or anything…you made a difference and the day wouldn’t have been the same without you. No matter the colour of your shirt or the reason you showed up; you played a vital role and what you did mattered.
SING provides some of my most favourite memories of high school. The values I learned are the ones I did my best to impart to students of mine in class and in planning and executing school-wide events and activities. I see the same ones each time I participate in a volunteer opportunity. Strangers show up, provide their name, get a name tag written with a sharpie on duct tape and pop on a new t-shirt. Within hours, they know the names of others, share stories, exchange details, create memories and smile through dirt and sweat knowing that they’re part of something bigger than themselves, something lasting, something meaningful. They leave covered in dirt, paint, sweat, sawdust, grime and who knows what else but the outfit is always complete with a smile. They may have volunteered their time today, but what they get from that day is often far greater than one could ever imagine. The lives of those you help aren’t the only ones forever changed.
Showing up matters. Volunteer today.