This last Monday was an experience that I will not soon forget. As planned, the preparations for the All Day Team Group were finalized and the students were prepared to spend the next eight hours with their team and therapists. The students had worked with their therapist to plan on a day that would focus on engaging in service and developing team building. As this day was upon us, I felt excitement to spend the next hours with the Falcons (boys) serving the less fortunate by volunteering at a local store which provided food and clothing to those in need.
I vividly recall gathering the Falcons together to discuss the purpose of service and the principle of giving as a means to develop empathy, compassion, and experience joy and connection. The boys were saying the right words, but just werent showing the enthusiasm that I had hoped. We loaded the van and continued to talk about the opportunity to evidence trust and the need for appropriate behaviors. Once we arrived at the store (Hope House), the boys apprehension about what we would be doing became increasingly noticeable and apparent. We walked through the doors and were pleasantly greeted by volunteers so happy to see us and appreciate for our desire to help. We were swiftly assigned to tasks and the boys were split up with staff in smaller groups around the different sections of the store. Some were organizing furniture, electronics, and hardware, where others were emptying trash, organizing clothes, and assisting with the food pantry.
I, along with two boys, where assigned to the food pantry where we meet Don who was a retired gentleman who volunteered multiple days of the week. He took us in the back and gave us chairs where he explained how we would work with him and sort through bags that people dropped off to be used. As we worked together, Don asked the boys many questions and made them feel appreciated. He talked with us about his reasons for volunteering and how giving to others made him feel joyful. Don joked around and introduced us to many of the other volunteers who similarly expressed how meaning and purpose came from giving without expectation of return. The two responded with a new found sense of awareness that serving others was in fact rewarding and felt good.
With new found smiles on their faces and a rejuvenated energy, the boys and I met with the rest of the group and formed an assembly line to put together bags with breakfast items that the store would pass out to those in need. It was amazing to watch our entire group work with the volunteers and passionately put cereal, pancake mix, granola bars, syrup, etc, into bags and show real excitement and determination. As we finished assembling the bags, the regular volunteers repeatedly thanked us and stated how enjoyable the boys were and how helpful a group we had been. In an extremely rewarding moment for me, the boys reciprocated and expressed how much the learned from the experience and were grateful for the opportunity to give to others.
The ride home was filled with enjoyable laughter and reflection of how we all wanted to go back and feel positive about ourselves and how service had changed us. It was a terrific day that I wont forget because I know that serving others produced authentic feelings of gratitude, empathy, and compassion in the students (staff and therapists as well).