By Serena Curry, Greenheart Outreach Coordinator

Meet Barnabas, a Work and Travel Participant who has gone above and beyond to volunteer in his host community in San Antonio, TX.  As a Greenheart Club Member, Barnabas has spent much of his time volunteering at a local organization that offers comprehensive services for the homeless.  Read his story and be inspired:

I find myself in the Lone Star State in the southern part of the United States and specifically in San Antonio, a city in the south central part of the state. I am a Texan at least for now and I am delighted to be here.

More to this, I am volunteering with the largest, most comprehensive Homeless Transformational Campus in the United States. What an honour!! On any given night, Haven for Hope houses roughly 1600 individuals on the Haven for Hope Campus. This Organization aims to transform and save lives of homeless men, women and families by addressing the root causes of homelessness through education, job training and behavioral health services.  Its “one stop” campus where I volunteer provides a wide array of comprehensive social services which are made possible by the collaboration of many partner agencies.

So far, I have helped out at the San Antonio Food Bank and the SAMMinistries which are major partner agencies of Haven for Hope. As it is commonly said that food is the most primitive form of comfort, I am excited that through my volunteer activities at the Food Bank, I contribute to providing comfort to residents and hence keeping their hope alive. My time at the Food Bank has been amazing as I get different experiences each time I visit.  I have packed and packaged food items, labeled them and conveyed them to the dry storage to be used later. I am indeed impressed by the attention given to any food item to and from the storage, to ensure it has date dots, is labeled and is good for consumption.

Keeping the dining hall clean especially after meals has been my business and you will find me sweeping the dining hall and cleaning the tables to ensure that we have a neat hall ready for the next mealtime. At other times I am helping out to prepare meals or behind the line, serving meals to the residents as their faces are full of smiles, some nod while others greet to show appreciation at the time we spend to volunteer. As I scoop a ladle of macaroni into a tray for this young boy he keeps staring at me, as if to say ‘This is not enough!!’. I give him another scoop, he smiles and says ‘Thank you’. Well, I hope I am not giving too much.

When not doing any of these, I probably will be busy with the dish washer, doing dishes and responding to their “Thanks” as they drop their trays. The fulfillment that such a sincere appreciation brings to me and the knowledge that through my volunteer activities, I am in my little way making a positive impact on my host community and making a difference in another person’s life is surely what makes these activities interesting and worth doing.

Apart from this, I have also met great people during my time volunteering especially when I am at the front desk at the transitional facility of SAMMinistries or serving meals at the Food Bank. As a receptionist at SAMMinistries I receive donations, answer and transfer phone calls,                 receive visitors etc. This is also a great learning experience and it’s always good telling these great friends about Ghana, her hospitality and cultural heritage while they also share some interesting stories about Texas with me. Another interesting thing is that the SA Food Bank makes use of motion sensors in all rooms. In the restrooms there are warm-air dryers which have inscriptions on them to save tress by eliminating paper towel waste. These are great ‘green’ practices and make me feel I am at the right place as a volunteer of the GreenHeart Club. It just makes me want to volunteer.

There has really been a lot to learn from my volunteer activities. I wouldn’t forget helping out to make a Pizza roll which tasted so good we were commended by the Chef and now I have a recipe book written down in my way which I doubt the Chef will understand because some cooking directions make meaning just to me and no one else. I guess I can’t say I know how to prepare those dishes until I try them, but I do have them on paper.

Being a receptionist at SAMMinistries has also taught me a lot in human relations and communication skills. I believe my skills in these areas have improved with such an exposure especially when I sometimes have to communicate with Spanish speakers and try to figure out what help they require of me.

What more can I say than a big ‘Thank you’ to the Center for Cultural Interchange (C.C.I) including their local partner, Eagles Flight Services as well as the GreenHeart Club. I guess one’s cultural exchange experience is not complete without a volunteer experience. I am now looking forward to having an environmental volunteering experience and I urge other GreenHeart Club members who have not volunteered in their communities to take that step.