The “new” volunteering

Volunteering is one of my favorite things to do. I find that helping others, however indirectly it might be, is one of the most rewarding endeavors one can aspire to.

I started volunteering after my breakup in 2010 in Boston. Community Servings cooks and delivers food to homebound families (due to illness) all over the Boston area. Spending my Saturday mornings chopping carrots -or whatever else needed to be done- was the best therapy. And I made great friends in my “squad”.

In Chapel Hill I spent four years volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House. The house hosts families of hospitalized children, free of charge, as long as the child is hospitalized. Monday evenings from 6 to 9 were spent cleaning the kitchen, cleaning, and preparing rooms for families, welcoming families and showing them around, vacuuming, sorting soda can tabs (the aluminum is well payed), whatever needed doing. I cherish the friendships I made in the house during these years.

Two of my favorite guys Ramses and Ronald!

Naples Florida is a bit off the beaten track, so my volunteering took a two-pronged approach: Every Saturday I sorted stuff at the Saint Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Shop and then took it out to the showroom floor. I also helped at Champions for Learning, helping low income students get into college! This was extremely rewarding, as I helped students with their college essays or interview questions. The smiles on their faces when we made a sentence work or when they figured out an interview question were all I needed to fill my heart with joy.

Back in Spain I volunteered at the Ronald McDonald Prenatal Family Room at the La Paz Hospital keeping the room in tip top shape -and baking brownies for the families! I also volunteered at my local Caritas Chapter warehouse, sorting donated books, furniture, and electronics for low income families. I quickly integrated with the team and the hours passed quickly sorting and helping folks out.

Baking brownies for the Ronald McDonald Family Room

Then Covid struck and I moved back to Florida. Although there might be volunteering possibilities out there, I am cautious. At the same time, I miss the camaraderie, the rewarding feeling of helping others.

Fortunately, I live near the beach where I go for open water swims every week (weather, rip currents, and surf conditions permitting), so the other day I grabbed a bag and went for a walk picking up trash. I spent an hour and a half walking, meditating, and retrieving plastics (mostly), all sorts of bottles, 2 flip flops (different), bits of rope, bottle tops, and random trash. While it was a lonesome project, I did clean up the beach ever so slightly, and I got some exercise and meditation done, so I will be repeating this socially distanced volunteering again soon!! (next time I will take a bucket since the plastic bag did not like the wind).

The pros and cons of multiculturalism

Moving from NYC to Boston 1988

We first moved to New York In 1977, I was 12. From there we moved to London in 1979, from there to college in Boston in 1983, and so on for back and forth between the US and Europe. As I recently wrote in my “Diversity Statement” for a job application:

I have had the privilege of growing up in multicultural and multiracial environments, cities, and schools: New York City, London, Paris, Madrid, Boston, etc., so since childhood I have been bathed in diversity: cultural, racial, religious, sexual, socioeconomic, etc. On top of that I have had the privilege of traveling widely.

So, while being multicultural is definitely an enriching experience, it does have its drawbacks: The first one is that you no longer “fit” into any particular “set” culture, you become a bit of an outsider whenever you are in an environment of population that is “born and bred” in a place.  The second and more insidious aspect is that you might no longer meet certain legal or bureaucratic requirements to say, work in a place.

This is what happened to me when I returned to Spain in 2018. My US degrees (Including a PhD) are not recognized in Spain to work as a teacher. Furthermore, to get all my paperwork approved and transferred and certified and triple stamped would have taken years. Besides the paperwork, there is a mentality issue. Teachers in Spain are generally not a respected, appreciated, and certainly not well remunerated part of the population. There are historical and social reasons for that, but I will leave them for another post.

Long story short: I have returned to work in the US as Assistant Professor of Spanish and Assistant Director of the Language Department at Saint Vincent de Paul, a major seminary in Boynton Beach Florida! This was not an easy decision, leaving everything behind for a job, but I could no longer live in a country that refused to acknowledge me professionally.