On January 19, 2013, I, along with others nationwide, responded to President Obama’s call to action to serve as a volunteer for the National Day of Service. I was the first volunteer to arrive that morning at The Parenting Place, a community-based non-profit whose mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect through strengthening families.
After welcoming me, staff member Megan asked, “What organization are you with?”
“I’m not with an organization,” I said, explaining I’d signed up through the National Day of Service website. I didn’t tell her the rest of the story: I’d been a volunteer in various capacities since my teenaged years, but this was the first time my volunteerism had included the possibility of winning a trip to D.C. for a presidential inauguration.
Megan directed me to an office to store my coat. As I headed in that direction, I heard her tell her co-worker, “They don’t know each other.”
The rest of the group, five women and four children, trickled in. After brief introductions, we posed for a photo before settling in to work.
iserve: Margie, Rebecca, Josie, Betsy, Karen, Carla, Linda, Aydin, Nicholas, and Nico (not pictured: photographer Katie).
Strangers at the onset, we learned of our connectedness as our day progressed.
Book lovers Aydin, a second grader; his brother, Nicholas, a third grader; and I were tasked with the job of cleaning and organizing the library. I enjoyed chatting with the boys about books, authors, and illustrators.
When Aydin pulled an Eric Carle book off a shelf he said, “Oh, my teacher would love this book!”
“Who’s your teacher?” I asked.
I smiled. Kathy Dungan teaches at the elementary school my sons, Eric and Colin, attended. She is our friend and neighbor, and had been to our house for dinner the previous weekend. We’ve shared many conversations about education, books, and reading throughout the years.
Carla—mother of Aydin; Nicholas; and Katie, a sixth grader and our photographer extraordinaire,—sang Kathy’s praises as she described how she has facilitated educational opportunities for Aydin that meet his abilities. We shared our mutual admiration for the 1st and 2nd grade multiage classrooms that my boys, and now Aydin, have benefited from.
Linda brought her four-year-old son, Nico, to help. They were champions in converting a back room into a space designated for babies and toddlers. Nico, Aydin, Nicholas and Katie did a wonderful job serving as game testers, too.
Josie and Margie organized the art supplies, then Josie and I moved to the puzzle and game nook. We discovered that Josie’s daughter and my son Eric served as AmeriCorps volunteers 2011-2012 for City Year, an organization dedicated to keeping students in school and on track for graduation.
While enjoying a bagel, I learned that Betsy’s daughter was packing to leave for a study abroad program the following day. Talking about the challenges of limiting luggage to “fifty pounds for six months,” I shared our experience of weighing Eric’s suitcase—also with a fifty-pound weight limit—on our veterinarian’s scale before he set out for twelve months in Argentina.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
We served together, children and adults, to honor President Obama and the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. No one in our group won the trip to D.C., but we were grateful for the opportunity to serve. We began our day as strangers. We ended it as friends.