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February 15, 2012 / HandsOnCorps

A Simple Thank You Can Go A Long Way

From the outset, my role as a VISTA at HandsOn Greater DC Cares in Washington, D.C. has required me to wear a lot of hats. There are five of us “neighboring VISTAs,” as we’re called here, and we pretty much have our hands in everything the organization does. We’re constantly meeting with residents and nonprofits, telling them about our various programs, volunteer opportunities and the various ways we help build the capacity of over 800 organizations across the D.C. metropolitan area.

The four large days of service we put on annually have proved to be a great way to make a positive difference in our neighborhoods, whether it is because we’re able to engage groups of community volunteers or because we are able to accomplish large projects that make a noticeable difference at local nonprofits. Back in September, I visited a school in my neighborhood that serves over 420 low-income kids from Head Start through 8th grade. It was too late to prepare a project for the 9/11 weekend of service, but I promised the principal she would be the first on my list for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Sure enough, when December rolled around, I visited the school once more to finalize the project, which included painting murals in the dull, off-white bathrooms per the request of the student body, cleaning some classrooms and painting words of character on the walls of the plain middle school hallway. These small improvements together would make the school a happier, more encouraging place to learn. But the Sunday before MLK Day, I received a call that changed the whole day: the President of the United States was coming to the school that day too!

When we arrived at the school, my 22 volunteers were confused by the extra security, large numbers of people milling about and my hesitancy to give them any details. Once we were allowed inside, we were funneled into the school’s cafeteria with other volunteer groups. As soon as they saw the “Serve.gov” banner, my volunteers knew exactly what was about to happen. Within the hour, the President, First Lady and oldest daughter, Malia, were speaking to us about the importance of living Dr. King’s legacy through service. The president noted that everyone has the power to make a positive difference in their community, in ways large and small, something we continually emphasize in our neighboring model.

 

After the president spoke, I expected that he would move off to his project with his family. But when he put the microphone down, he didn’t leave the room. Instead, he walked around and asked every single volunteer their name, shook their hand and thanked them for serving. Mrs. Obama and Malia followed behind doing the same. After meeting the First Family, my volunteers were on Cloud 9 and all the more motivated to make it a great day of service. Due to security constraints, we were only able to complete part of our planned project. But the impact of hearing the president commend volunteer efforts will surely inspire me and my volunteers for years to come as we all work to make Washington, D.C. a better place to live.

Linda Kurtz

HandsOn Corps VISTA: HandsOn Greater DC Cares

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