Discovering the joy of volunteering: How a CCI Greenheart project inspired J-1 participants to do more
By: Shawna Pye, CCI Greenheart Work and Travel Employer Relations Manager
“Where will we collect our money?” asked the J-1 participant in Surfside Beach, South Carolina in response to the CCI Greenheart volunteer project in Little River the next day. I was speechless for a few seconds but realized that she and her other friends from the same country didn’t understand what volunteering meant. I had the opportunity to explain to them that volunteering was doing something positive to benefit a person, an organization or a cause without getting paid or expecting anything in return.
Still willing to help, the participants showed up eager the next day. The 90-degree humid weather of the South was on full display Monday morning and newly donned CCI Greenheart t-shirts of the willing volunteers were quickly drenched. The local project coordinator was prepared and opened up his van filled with hoes, rakes, and work gloves. He even pulled out a cooler full of ice-cold water bottles.
Our work was based at a small lake inside a large community recreation park. Our first task was clearing an area of weeds and other naturally fallen obstructions to create a path for cross-country runners. The excited international helpers quickly discovered the “joy” of pulling weeds for the first time.
We enjoyed lunch at a local bakery afterward. Munching on Philly cheesesteaks, bagels, and grilled paninis, the hungry volunteers talked about other things they could do to help their host community. This soon led to ideas about how to volunteer in their home country. Helping in schools, assisting the elderly, and educating other J-1 participants were some of the causes that the participants wanted to get involved in.
Realizing there is so much we can do to improve the world around us, volunteers learned they may not be “collecting money” but are gaining something far more valuable to take with them for the rest of their journeys.