Giving – How did a volunteer experience change you?” – Story by “Sathya Viswanadhan”
Helping the Impoverished: a Rich Experience
by Sathya Viswanadhan
Seventeen years ago, on a cold November, Saturday morning, I hurriedly threw on a heavy winter coat and headed to Charleston Department Store. Though the weather was bleak, the shopping trip was anything but that. It was not just any shopping trip; I and other Nitro High School Key Club members were to shop for local impoverished children. Each club member was paired with a child, given $100, and tasked with shopping for his/her newfound friend. We were to provide necessities – gloves and scarf, coat, boots, etc. – to the underprivileged so that they would possess what is required to survive the long winter months.
The girl I was matched with, “Maria,” was dressed in a tattered jacket and pants. Despite her ragged appearance, Maria seemed comfortable in her own skin. Her big eyes carried a look of excitement as we started to wander the store. Maria’s energy was contagious, and I too developed a spring in my steps, particularly as the morning progressed. Figuring that Maria knew best what she wanted, I let her take the lead. The shirt, jacket, socks, pants, gloves, scarf, and shoes she chose were all simple. She noticed the expensive brand-name attire, but paid them no interest. Her pragmatic shopping style was born out of her circumstance. Not having much money, her family was forced to be cautious about spending. Of course, one has every right to spend money on brand-name attire if so desired. However, what irked me – especially as an impressionable high school student – was constantly being bombarded with messages that in order to fit in, I had to dress a certain way. But looking at Maria as she tossed items into the cart, I saw a girl who was content. Generic was good enough for her. Her smile expressed gratitude, and her eyes danced with hope as we neared the checkout counter. I grinned knowing that not only would her newly-purchased coat warm her body, but that the memory of today’s experience would warm her soul for years to come.
Not only did we give children some new clothing and shoes, but we also nurtured them with the gift of hope: hope that we are not too caught up in our own chaotic lives to invest a few hours on them. This volunteering experience gave me a gift too: a lesson that I should be more content with what I have. It taught me to be more positive about my clothes, my shoes, and with life in general, as Maria was. If she could be so happy in her limited conditions, then I too should be grateful for what all I have. It further engrained in me that no matter how busy our lives are, we can always dedicate a couple hours to a person in need, whether it is a stranger, family member, or friend. The smile radiating from the person you help is confirmation enough that your investment is worth it.