“If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.” - Maya Angelou
Since moving to San Diego, there have been a few times when I was not working. During those times I would find a place to volunteer. Volunteering is always needed. Volunteering is rewarding because the people you serve are always so grateful you’re there. Serving others with your time, talent, or experience in any way, shape, or form is the greatest gift you can give to others.
The first time I volunteered, I chose a non-profit organization that offered after-school programming and counseling services for children and their families. I helped in the office with simple administrative tasks to help them prepare for moving to a new location. It’s nice to be needed, meet a few people, and get out of the house when you’re new in town. Because the work I performed was very easy and basic, my supervisor was worried I would get bored. She also felt embarrassed about asking me to do certain tasks that she thought were beneath me because she knew I was capable of doing so much more. But, I was happy to wake up with a purpose, help someone who needed a hand, do work that didn’t cause me stress, and support an organization that did so much for kids.
Another volunteer position I held was working with the elderly in an assisted senior living community. When my grandfather went into a nursing home three months before he passed away, my brothers would tell me how bad they felt about the other residents who didn’t have any visitors. So, if my grandfather was sleeping, they’d visit with other residents for a short while. These residents would even wheel themselves out of their rooms in their wheelchairs just to take a look at my family and admire the great grandchildren. This left an impression on me for a long time. So, over the holidays in 2015, I chose to volunteer for a month as my first official mission in aloha and as a tribute to my grandfather who had died three years prior on December 1st.
Initially, I had only planned to volunteer for one month. I taught exercise three times weekly as their chair fitness instructor to a room of 10 to 15 residents. I also read to them. I would read the daily chronicles, which provided random facts from the past and present, as well as the daily horoscopes. I even “adopted” one of the residents whose family didn’t visit and became her “secret Santa” for a week before Christmas. Each night, while she was at dinner, I would get access into her room and leave a treat and a kryptic poem with hints about me.
Before I knew it, one month of volunteering turned into five. Five months turned into a part-time job running activities for both memory care residents and assisted living residents. And, that three-month experience turned into a full-time position as the activities director for the assisted living department. I worked with residents with a range of physical abilities, memory loss, and cognitive behaviors. As part of the job, I also managed residents with difficult personalities while running activities.
This job gave me the opportunity to combine my experience in management with my creativity and passion for aloha. While I didn’t have a formal background or experience in education or gerontology, I simply focused on teaching, demonstrating, and reminding residents of the importance of love, kindness, and compassion - for themselves and others. Believe it or not, I found myself teaching them all over again about manners and etiquette. I taught them about the importance of a random act of kindness, how to believe in themselves, and to love themselves enough to try new and different things. I taught them to have the courage to do things even if they were not good at them. Every day, I simply taught them what my grandpa taught me,. “Doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Before I knew it, I noticed changes among my residents. They became more active, outgoing, open, curious, adventurous, brave, patient, relaxed, excited, loving, kind, and compassionate. As a result, their self-esteem, self-worth, courage, and confidence soared. Over time, they were willing to do or try anything I threw at them. They initiated interest in things more. They grew more and stronger friendships. They became more welcoming to new residents. They loved to compete, encourage, and support each other. They learned to have fun, have meaningful conversations about the past, present, and future, and they became less worried about failing.
Together, we laughed, we learned, and we loved every day. I would not waste a day or a moment. If there was anything I learned from working with the elderly, it was you are not promised tomorrow. So, together, we welcomed new residents. And together, we said goodbye to old friends.
It was an experience I will never forget. As much as I taught them, they have also taught me. My work with the elderly allowed me to tap into a creative energy that I hadn’t had in years. After years of working in sales and management, I was craving something different. This job brought all my gifts together, but the greatest gift I employed in this position was love.
My passion is to love others. And this job offered the unique opportunity to love as my sole purpose. Every day was an opportunity to help them feel heard, loved, safe, and like they mattered. All it took was to treat them the way all people should be treated - with love, kindness, and compassion. I listened and I loved every minute of the experience - even the challenging times when residents passed away, when residents fought with each other, or when residents didn’t want to participate. They are the ones that taught me the most about love.
Love inspires. Love motivates. And, love empowers. It lifts us up, moves us forward, and brings out the best in all of us.
Everyone has a gift. Everyone has a purpose. Simply to be is a gift and a purpose. You serve a purpose just by being yourself.
But if you are looking to serve a greater purpose, choose to serve others. There is always something you can do for others. You don’t need any special skills, talents, or experience.
Everything you need is within you. All you have to do is tap into your powers of love, kindness, compassion, peace, mercy, or affection and share it with someone. Bring someone a flower. Thank them for their military service. Pay a compliment. Listen to a favorite song together. Have meaningful conversations over a cup of coffee. Do a favor. Share a meal. Share pictures of your family. Tell a story. Tell a joke. Donate a book. Tell someone they look beautiful or handsome. Tell someone they are amazing just the way they are.
If you are feeling lost and don’t know what to do now or what to do next. Do not worry. Simply look around you and see who needs help or just needs a friend. There is always something you can do, my Pineapple. Simply start by doing some good. It will do something good for you. It will help you find your way.
Live, Love, and Lead with Aloha.