First and foremost I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas! May it be filled with love, happiness, family, and friends! However, as we celebrate Christmas and open our gifts, it is important to keep in mind the best gift of all: giving. Yes, we all gave our loved ones presents, but I mean giving back to those in need.
In a former article I addressed the importance of volunteering, both for the individual and for those he/she helps. I provided a list of opportunities for residents of the New York City area because volunteering locally is extremely important. People living in poverty, suffering illness, and struggling emotionally surround us all, and giving back to those in your community can achieve lasting, positive effects.
While volunteering locally is important, volunteering away from home is also extremely beneficial. Service trips are privileged opportunities but with fundraising and sacrifices these trips become possible, allowing those throughout the world to benefit from the resources they unfortunately lack. For this reason, I decided to embark on an international service trip to Ecuador with 11 other individuals who share my passion for social justice. Our departure date is New Year’s Eve.
My team and I will work with the Working Boys’ Center (WBC) in Quito. The goal of the WBC today is to help the families of the working boys become stable, financially independent, and agents of change for social justice, as well as have access to education, healthcare, and quality basic services. We will meet the yearlong volunteers of the WBC and assist with their many projects, including vocational programs, girls’ program, and literacy education.
Once in Ecuador, I hope to provide whatever assistance, knowledge, and love I possibly can to all those I encounter. I also have many selfish objectives. I hope to expand my horizons by immersing myself into Ecuadorian culture. I hope to grow as an individual, reconnecting with moral values through outreach and learning positive life lessons for the future. I also hope to build strong relationships and to take all that I can from them—such as love and inspiration.
I cannot wait for this experience, not only for myself, but most importantly for the people I am eager to meet and hopefully to help. My team and I are all aware that the change we make won’t be large. Our main goal truly is just to bring happiness and then whatever else we can. If we make one person smile or bring one family closer, then we made as much of a difference that we could have possibly hoped for.
I am not telling you all to travel abroad for a service trip. I am simply saying to give back in whatever way you can.
In hopes of inspiring you to give back, I am sharing with you my experiences from my service trip this summer to Colorado and New Mexico.
My team and I had a great time in Alamosa, Colorado, where we cooked lunch and dinner for the homeless at La Puente Home, a shelter that serves three meals a day to anyone in need, as well as houses 45 people for a 30 day period. We cleaned the facilities and even had the pleasure of talking and playing basketball with many of the residents. We learned not to categorize these people as homeless, but rather to take the time to get to know them as individuals—often learning from their words of wisdom.
We also spent a lot of time working at the community garden where the town receives 2% of its food. It was an eye opening to experience how much work is necessary for such a small percentage of the town’s food.
La Puente has several enterprises, including Rainbow’s End thrift store where we helped sort through the various donations.
La Puente also runs the Adelante Program, which provides transitional housing services to families as they move from homelessness to self-sufficiency. We were able to meet a few of these families when we painted their picnic tables. The kids we met had great imaginations and we had fun helping them tell their stories.
My favorite aspect was working at PALS (Positive Activities Lead to Success), a children’s program for high-risk children referred from the Department of Human Services. We took the kids to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge where we walked for two miles, enjoying the views, the indigenous birds, and the kids’ loving personalities! I was paired with Alicia, an energetic little girl who insisted I give her a piggyback ride every step of the way! We also treated them to a spa day; they meditated, received foot massages, and both got and gave manicures! They all come from neglected homes but you would never guess from their optimistic attitudes and warm embraces.
After our week in Alamosa we focused on culture immersion. We climbed the Great Sand Dunes in the San Luis Valley, as well as Zapata Falls, a waterfall south of the dunes.
We then made our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we stayed at the Kampgrounds of America (KOA) for two nights.
We took in the Spanish architecture and visited the native crafts markets.
Our last adventure was a visit to the Petroglyph National Monument, which stretches 17 miles along Albuquerque, New Mexico’s West Mesa, a volcanic basalt escarpment that dominates the city’s western horizon.
One extra treat was a tour of some of the famous Breaking Bad locations in Albuquerque, an American crime drama television series—a hit among many on the team.
It was such a wonderful experience that I am so thankful for. From the many conversations I had with the La Puente residents to my laughs with the kids from PALS, I will never forget all that the people I met taught me and how they helped me grow to be a better person.