There is something to be gained when helping others. You are introduced to people you might never meet and experience joy that you never knew was possible. Despite always referring to my 20’s as the “selfish years,” I find the act of volunteering a great way to keep in touch with the human condition and remind others that there is still hope in a world where children torment their bus monitor.
When I finished grad school a few years ago, I was happy to have my life back. No more weekends where I have to tell my friends I can’t hang out because I had to banish myself to the library. It was time to regain my social life, rejoin the race of the non-studious, and have some fun. And I knew just what I wanted to do: volunteer.
In high school, I was actively involved with Key Club run through the Kiwanis organization. We did a lot of stuff in the community including library readings and delivering Thanksgiving meals to nursing homes. It was a blast and it never really felt like I was sacrificing my time. To find another organization to volunteer my time was not an easy task. A lot of groups had weekly meetings that I could not attend because of work or were not accepting new volunteers. Plus, I wasn’t even sure what type of organization I wanted to volunteer for. There are so many causes out there (animals, diseases, poverty, violence, etc.) that I knew I had to start with who I wanted to help and go from there.
Since I love those little magical beings the rest of the planet refers to as children, I figured I’d start there. A little internet research brought me to a worldwide organization which had a local chapter and a few days later, the chapter had a booth at my work’s annual charity fest. I spoke to the representatives and filled out a volunteer application that included the purchase of a background check—a must when dealing with kids. After hearing that I was selected, I had to wait six months for the annual training for Wish Granters, the new position I had just pledged my time to.
The training taught me all about the organization and the program director talked about how she, a double-wish mom, had been affected by the organization long before she worked full-time for the chapter. It was so inspiring to hear how the work I would soon be doing would have such a lasting effect on those families whose children had wishes granted. I was eager to get started and was assigned my first child, a sixteen-year-old who had battled lymphoma. With a partner, we were to discover what his wish was and plan how to make it a reality.
Over the course of three months, I got to know K and his family. Hearing their stories (a child diagnosed with cancer at the age of 9, a mother with a broken back and undiagnosed Parkinson’s-like tremor, the loss of a child, and having to relocate to another state after a house and all possessions were lost), I couldn’t help but feel for this family that had gone through so much. Even with all the tragedy, I have never met such a happy family. No one dwelled on the past or wallowed in self-pity. They pulled up their bootstraps when life kicked them down and kept going.
After our first meeting, I sent the family a thank-you card for allowing me and my wish granting partner into their lives to spread a little joy. I was beyond thrilled that I could be a part of something positive in this family’s life. I learned yesterday that K’s mom had shed a few tears at this gesture. In her words, “You guys come all the way up here to do something nice for us and then you send a thank-you card?!” We had a good laugh over my “horrible” behavior.
Yesterday was our last day with the family. K’s wish was about to come true.
K was unlike any teenage boy I had ever met. He was kind, calm, and incredibly caring. When the family cat needed a trip to the vet to get his teeth checked, K offered to save up for the appointment as the family did not have excess funds to cover the cat’s medical needs. He really didn’t seem all that interested in having us grant him a wish, but he finally decided that he would love a new “sweet” computer. K is a complete whiz kid when it comes to technology and he was gifted with a computer with all the necessities (printer, desk, extra memory, screen cleaner, gaming keyboard and mouse, headphones, etc.) and a few surprises.
We helped get everything set up before K got home and we even covered his desk with bags of his favorite snack: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. K’s little brother A provided comic relief throughout the set-up and the family was incredibly gracious as they shared stories with us. After some pizza and lemonade, we stayed until we were sure everything was in working order and hugged the family good-bye, happy to know that for at least a few hours, they could focus on something positive.
It was bittersweet saying goodbye to this family. They were delightful and welcomed us into their home with open arms. I doubt they know how wonderful it was to be a part of their lives if only for a little while and how the memories of granting my first wish will stay with me longer than they realize. Making K’s wish a reality was a dream come true for me. I hope that granting K’s wish brings a little extra luck for this well-deserving family. I only wish I could have done more for this family.
Because after all, isn’t it a far better thing to give rather than receive?