Tag Archives: Volunteer

Serving Others

Our service group for the week...Alex, Tim, myself, and Autumn!  Photo credit: one of our amazing ISL staff members

Our service group for the week…Alex, Tim, myself, and Autumn! Photo credit: one of our amazing ISL staff members

It has been nearly six months since Tim and I (and a fellow colleague and new found friend) returned from our physical therapy service trip to Costa Rica.  It has taken me a while to truly process my experience while serving in such a beautiful country.  This process was certainly derailed by my reading of the book, Doing Good Is Simple by Chris Marlow (founder of Help One Now) shortly after returning home.  A book I highly recommend if you’re looking for ways to serve others!  And one that I wish I had read prior to my trip not after…

A simple side and look into service work.  Photo credit: myself

A simple side and look into service work. Photo credit: myself

Prior to leaving (with a vague itinerary), I felt ready for whatever situation we may be placed in while serving there…I was so wrong!  I was guilty of thinking I had the perspective I needed for this trip.  Reading articles, watching videos, talking with others, etc did nothing to prepare me for the emotions that would hit me hard throughout our service project.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Photo credit: Pinterest

Myself and a colleague had the bittersweet pleasure of getting to work at a place called Manos Abiertas.  What a special place this is, and one that will forever be etched on my heart!  This place is so full of life, even amidst an undertow of suffering.  The many stories of suffering were overshadowed by the amazing staff and volunteers, who are caring for some of the most vulnerable children and adults in Costa Rica.  At times, the joy on the residents’ and staffs’ faces were almost palpable, which was inspiring after hearing about the many struggles they endured.  This is the kind of place that can be hard on the heart, but so worth taking your heart to.  A place I truly hope to return to someday!

A place that helped shape my heart.  Photo credit: Manos Abiertas website

A place that helped shape my heart. Photo credit: Manos Abiertas website

Autumn and I with the best translators and ISL staff...Pouchi and Lau

Autumn and I with the best translators and ISL staff…Pouchi and Lau

Autumn and I with the amazing physical therapists at Manos Abiertas...Javier, Gustavo, and Esteban

Autumn and I with the amazing physical therapists at Manos Abiertas…Javier, Gustavo, and Esteban

My trip reflection
It may seem cliche, but hindsight truly is 20/20, especially after a trip like this.  My pre-trip, somewhat naive self learned so much more than bargained for throughout the many eye-opening and heartfelt experiences.  Following this retrospection I’ve discovered three repeating thoughts that will hopefully result in a greater impact during my future adventures, here in the States and abroad.

The first, WHO is the trip impacting?
Prior to the trip, I was looking forward to how I would be able to impact the people I came in contact with during my time there.  However, by the end, I was realizing just how much of an influence they were having on me.  Looking back, the ebb and flow of the relationships I made were very much one of mutual give and take.  And being more aware of this kind of connection and realizing how important this two-sided relationship benefits both, will only add to my future mission experiences.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Photo credit: Pinterest

The second is, HOW are you impacting the people and the community?
Pondering the ways in which your time and effort will impact the people you are there to serve is something I considered, but didn’t intentionally think about until I was in Costa Rica.  Since I had never traveled outside the US for something like this before, I really had no idea what to expect.  Finding ways to make your service impact more than just the people you directly work with is important.  Encouraging those you connected with to then go out into their community and inspire others is where success is found.

This is what I want to encourage in those I cross paths with.  Photo credit: Pinterest

This is what I want to encourage in those I cross paths with. Photo credit: Pinterest

And lastly, WHAT impact are you leaving behind?
This to me, is by far the most important thing to consider before signing up for a service or mission trip.  Knowing how the organization maintains relationships (long after you’ve come and gone) in the community you’re serving is crucial to the long term benefits of the people living there.  This is one thing I had never really considered until reading countless articles on the ways short-term mission trips and pop-up mission organizations can sometimes be a detriment to the communities visited and how much more an area can flourish with lasting support.  Which is why finding a company that had an established presence in the community was crucial for me.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Photo credit: Pinterest

I encourage you to take a trip and experience different cultures, hear other languages, and learn about the ways of life outside the safety of your community, it may just be the best thing you could do…at least it has been for me!

Love God, Love People, Serve Others ❤️

Fostering a sense of community

Most of you know about the journey we are currently taking as a family of four traveling in our RV.  Before leaving, we thought a lot about the things we wanted to gain from traveling.  One of the topics that always seemed to come up was giving back.  We really wanted to immerse ourselves in the communities that we were visiting and search for ways to contribute.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Photo credit: Pinterest

Even though our kids are only toddlers, we have a strong desire to foster in them a feeling of compassion and empathy toward others as well as cultural sensitivity.  One of the ways we were hoping to do this was through various volunteer opportunities.

These opportunities where much easier to find in the communities we grew up in, where as, life on the road has made it more difficult.  My first two jobs took us to small, rural towns in Texas with fewer resources, making it harder to find volunteer opportunities.  We had the chance to take some time off between work assignments, which lead us to a much bigger city in Texas…Austin.  Tim and I had heard from several people that, “you do not want to go to Austin, they’re weird there.”  Believe it or not, we actually fit in with weird right now.  And after researching Austin, we knew we had to make the trip.

Many Austin locals don this shirt.  Photo credit: Pinterest

Many Austin locals don this shirt. Photo credit: Pinterest

One thing that drew us to this fantastic city was how different it was from nearly all of the rest of Texas.  It seemed to be a city on the forefront of the “Go Green” movement, with multiple levels of promoting sustainability and providing ways to encourage the environmentally conscious person.

Photo credit: my photo edited in photo grid app

Photo credit: my photo edited in photo grid app

While researching volunteer opportunities, we stumbled across this great organization, Keep Austin Beautiful (www.keepaustinbeautiful.org).  We happened to be in Austin during their Clean Sweep event, where the Austin community comes together to clean-up multiple locations throughout the city.  According to their website, the event had 4,200 volunteers contributing 8,300 hours of service to remove 27 tons of trash from the city.

Helping out at the KAB Clean Sweep!  We helped clean at the Texas River School.

Helping out at the KAB Clean Sweep! We helped clean at the Texas River School.

After a lot of kid-centered volunteer research, we found an organization called Little Helping Hands (www.littlehelpinghands.org), which focuses on community service opportunities for children.  We participated in a “garden day” at a local church’s community garden, where they have volunteers come and manage small garden plots, and then harvest their goods for a local food pantry.

Planting beans.

Planting beans.

Working hard at Garden Day!

Working hard at Garden Day!

Through Little Helping Hands, we were also able to help out another worthwhile Austin organization, Meals on Wheels and More (www.mealsonwheelsandmore.org).  The kids made cards for the five clients we were delivering meals to that day.  Griff was eager to help deliver the meals along our route.  It was so neat to see the interaction between Griff and the people we were serving meals to, he is coming out of his shell more and more every day!

Proud of his card!

Proud of his card!

Our time off also gave Tim a break from his role as stay-at-home-dad, which he had been embracing over the last four months.  He was able to spend Tuesday and Thursday mornings volunteering at Urban Roots (www.urbanrootsatx.org), which is an amazing organization that helps to empower youth as leaders, and hopes to instill in them a love of vegetables and an appreciation for the earth along the way.

The 4 acre garden at Urban Roots

The 4 acre garden at Urban Roots

Over Easter weekend we were lucky enough to be able to witness an unconventional Easter church service.  This church happily and humbly takes their role of “being the hands and feet of Jesus,” to literally serve their homeless brothers and sisters.  It was a moving experience to be part of an event that served meals and shoes to hundreds of Austin’s homeless.

We were first introduced to this church via my “obsession” with Jen Hatmaker (check her out on Facebook) and how much respect I have for her books “Interrupted” and “7”!  She and her husband, along with their friends, planted the Austin New Church (www.austinnewchurch.org), and how they do church is inspiring.

ANC church service and music under the 6th Street bridge in Austin

ANC church service and music under the 6th Street bridge in Austin

Serving our homeless brothers and sisters with food donated from Hatcreek Burgers and donated shoes.

Serving our homeless brothers and sisters with food donated from Hatcreek Burgers and donated shoes.

These were just some of the ways we were able to give back while in Austin.  During our travels, we have lost that secure feeling of a community, and volunteering is one way we feel we can gain that sense of community while on the road.

I would highly encourage you to find various ways you can make a difference in your “community”, no matter where you are.

Photo credit: my photo edited with photo grid app.

Photo credit: my photo edited with photo grid app.