When the Giving Gives Back

Volunteering isn’t a new thing within the NRTA; nor is it new to many of the companies who make up our membership (several of whom have volunteer/community service programs of their own). What is new, however, is the experience that some of our members had while at the Expanding Knowledge Conference in Tucson this year: An organized day of service helping the volunteers and kids of the Boys and Girls Club in Tucson restore and refurbish their meeting center.

As coordinated by members of the Conference Committee including Mary Ellen Belanger, Sue Rebelo, Carole Fiola and Lisa Krizek, our volunteers showed up at the appointed time and were brought to the club; it quickly became a paint-spattered day full of laughs, conversation, learning, and community building.

Here are some of their stories, in their own words.

“Where to begin…..

I guess, first and foremost is, I never expected to have the heartwarming and fun experience that I had. Dustin was my first connection when we shot hoops together before our work began. The smile on his face melted my heart. As our time there progressed, I got to speak to him a bit. He immediately, given the opportunity, opened up to tell me how he lives in foster care with his brother (who was also there). He was heading to the eye doctor’s that day, hoping for surgery on his eye, such as he had previously on his other eye. He didn’t get into the reason why, but it just showed me that he was worried about it and worried that, for whatever reason (money?) he might not be able to have it.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Christian at length. Christian if I recall correctly, used to attend the club, and is now back as a counselor. He had a quiet demeanor, but as he opened up, he as well, captured my heart. He was going to the University of Arizona and is in his 3rd year working toward a teaching degree. He hopes to work with 5th graders, preferably Math. (I’m not good at remembering things and I may be twisted up, but I don’t think so. This young man really left an impression on me.) I told him that I could see that he had such a wonderful personality and warmth about him that surely, he would leave a mark on his students. I so wished him well.

That was what I took away from inside the club. I cannot begin to imagine the hard reality of life they have endured in their few short years. It made me realize how protected I was at their age.”  –Mary Fraser

“When this program was brought up by members of the Conference Committee, I thought it was something we (NRTA) should investigate. We determined that a test in Tucson would be appropriate and then make a decision if we should expand in coming years. The experience was terrific. Not only did we get a chance to work with 8-10 kids from a low income area of Tucson, but also meet the Boys and Girls Club volunteers that make a difference in their lives.

We had the opportunity to paint a large room and hall but also talk, laugh and learn more about their lives. All were teenagers who consider the club their home. Most spend several hours a day at the facility and count on the staff to give them guidance and encouragement. All were interested in moving on to college and are working with the staff to make their dreams come true.The club is not just a place to hang around, but a place to work on their educational and life goals with computers, study areas and a library.

Because of our experience we will look to expand the community effort next year in New Orleans. Hopefully we can schedule a time when many of our attendees will be able to participate in this worthwhile community workday.” –Paul Kinney

“My volunteer experience with the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson can be described by one word. AMAZING. The youth and staff of the BGCT were warm and gracious.

I had every intention of going there to make a difference in their lives, yet they made a difference in mine. I can’t thank the staff and their members enough!!” –Susan Rebelo

“This was a new dimension to the NRTA conference experience. It provided an opportunity to take on a project working side by side with other professionals for the benefit of others. It gave us an opportunity to share something special with folks from the Tucson community. When all was said and done, the project was successfully completed; we were wearing a lot of paint on ourselves and were a little tired. Best of all we met a number of young people who shared their world with us. In the end we all had smiles on our faces.” –Jim Fiola

“Reflecting on my Boys and Girls Club volunteer experience in Tucson, brings a smile to my face. What a wonderful way to experience kids, of different ages, facing many challenges and see how they interacted with all of us adults. They verbalized their goals for the future and how they planned to achieve them. It was so gratifying seeing young people who were so appreciative of us helping them make “their place” better…we had a wonderful morning with them and I would recommend it to everyone…it opens your eyes to many things that we all take for granted.” –Carole Fiola

Thoughts on the NRTA Volunteer Project in Tucson, AZ

“When I first heard of the NRTA’s volunteer project with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Tucson, AZ, I thought it was a great idea. The Boys and Girls clubs play a very important role giving kids a place to keep them off the streets. I also had some connection with Tucson because I lived there for 12 years. Our volunteer job at the Boys and Girls Club was to paint the interior of the recreation center. I have to admit, that I was a bit concerned about the coordination and logistics of the project, being many NRTA members involved and that we had not worked with this organization before. However, my worries were quickly set aside, and I was so impressed with how prepared the people at the Boys and Girls Club were. We were driven to the location from the hotel and they had all the painting supplies ready for us. Most importantly, they had several great kids there waiting to help us. Yes, they were eager to work!

When we walked in the kids were shooting hoops in the gym area and before we knew it we found ourselves playing with them. Their ages varied from 11 to 18 years old and all were Hispanic. This was a turning point for me when I began to feel that what we were doing here was something special. We then began the project of painting the recreation room and everybody took to it very quickly as well as the kids. Although the club was nothing fancy and located in South Tucson which is one of the poorer areas of Tucson, the kids and workers there had a lot pride in the club and wanted it to look good. They gave us tours of the club’s different rooms to show it off.

Working side by side with everyone gave us a chance to talk to the kids and get to know a bit about them. Our short term relationship with these kids began to give us insight in who they were and where they come from. This is when I began to realize that this NRTA project was very special indeed. These kids were very poor who mostly came over from Mexico. However, all had dreams of going to college getting a degree. I spoke to one girl, and her dream was to become a lawyer and help the immigrant poor. Something she felt strongly about.

It wasn’t till I met another young man who was around 17 or 18 years old that I felt the emotions from a personal level. He was just starting college and telling me about his dreams to be a lawyer also. He told me he was going go to the University of Arizona. He knew he would have some problems because of his high school records. (He may not have finished high school or his school records were in Mexico). So he was telling me about a way he can enroll in the local Community College (Pima), and if he attended a few semesters there, he could then transfer over to the University of Arizona without any questions asked about his high school records. His passion and commitment to follow a dream and find a way to succeed was very refreshing. For me, it brought home a lot of memories. You see, that is how I ended up going to the University of Arizona.

As we finished up the painting project, we had lunch with everyone. The pride in the club’s workers and kids as they looked at the new painted walls (purple) was enough for me to really feel good about what we did. It was a great experience for me in so many ways. We helped out with the painting, we met some great people, and we created some cool memories. Most importantly it keeps it all grounded and in perspective. I’m proud to be involved with the NRTA volunteer project. I would highly recommend it to everyone.” –Rick Burke