Written by Jesenia Hernandez, Communications Manager
A couple weeks ago, I went to the Rec Center in Tierra Vida to pick up my son from After the Bell program. I saw Oscar, a funny and confident teenager with a new Tierra Vida beanie on. “That’s a cool hat! I want one too,” I said. He stood tall and proud and responded, “Well Miss, you better sign up and volunteer!”
“You’re right! I should!” I responded. I walked away laughing because aside from being the mom of a student in program, I work at the Trust too. I thought to myself, “Do better Jes! Sign up and volunteer next time!” Seeing his pride made me anxiously want to interview the staff responsible for hosting the Volunteer Dinner where he proudly received his beanie. What happened that night?
Here is the story:
Last month, Tierra Vida community engagement team reflected on the year. It was a time of thanksgiving and they wanted to show gratitude to volunteers for the 32 hours of programming they helped make successful. “We wanted to go all out and we decided to host a volunteer dinner,” said Eli Martinez, Community Engagement Manager. “At first our ideas were all over the place. We thought we would recruit the youth to serve.”
“I immediately said no,” said Jasmine Castellanos, Rec Center Coordinator. “The kids helped me all year and to be honest I wouldn’t have been able to get everything done without their help. They helped me pass out flyers to houses and apartments, they helped me pick up tables and chairs, and so much more. Serving them was important to me.”
Since this was the first time this dinner would take place, staff had to ensure its success without the help of volunteers. The team reached out to their colleagues at the Trust and invited them to serve the community. The volunteer role was now reversed!
“On the night of the dinner, the plan unfolded very organically. We didn’t have a solid plan. Right until the last minute we were anxiously wondering how we were going to make it happen. How were we going to serve food? I just saw Ivone and Dawn asking people, ‘Lemonade? Water?’ and literally being a waiter or waitress to the tables. The rest of our team just started following their lead!” said Eli.
“At the beginning we didn’t even have tablecloths. Dawn came up and asked if we wanted to use the ones she had. I don’t where she got flowers, but she even had flowers to put on each table!” said Jasmine.
“Why was hosting this dinner important to you? What does having volunteers say about community engagement?” I asked.
”If we didn’t have volunteers, we would be failing. When you have volunteers helping the community, it’s a sign that the right message is being taken to heart.,” said Martin Martinez, Family Engagement Coordinator.
“It’s also an opportunity for us to show volunteers that we appreciate them and we notice their hard work,” said Eli.
As the dinner came to a close, one thing was very clear, there was joy in the company of community. The laughter, talking, speeches, and even staff staying late and cleaning up together were powerful reminders of why we serve one another. The students sat proud at tables where people saw and appreciated their value; tables they rarely got to sit at with a fancy dinner, certificates, and 5-star service from adults outside of their family circles that love them. The volunteers- like Claudia- shared beautiful messages, “Helping the community helps me fight my stress and depression. It takes me out of my routine and makes me feel like I am doing something positive for me and my son.” And finally, loved ones (plus-ones) like Cheysa Cruz were provided a rare space to share encouraging messages with volunteers, in this case, her dad. She shared how proud she is to see him helping his community.
Sometimes we get so caught up in moving from one thing to the next that we forget to pause, reflect, encourage, and soak in the joy of Christ’s love and call to service. In the words and catch phrase of our Tierra Vida youth…. “WOAHHHH…. PAUSE!” and celebrate all that you give and bring to community, because truly community wouldn’t be whole without you!