25 Days of Receiving
Receiving. When we think of receiving we think of something being given to us and visa-versa for giving but the two go hand-in-hand. On many of our journeys we were raised with a moral education that it is better to give than receive. However, there is one key thing missing from that teaching. What is lost is actually what is received when we give.
Three years ago almost to the exact same time as I started to write this I was doing a lot of reflection on where my life was. I was trying to find my direction. I was a bit lost at the time. I had no idea what was next. Meanwhile Thanksgiving had just passed, the Christmas music was playing everywhere, and you could just feel the cheeriness of the season in the air.
This was a time in my life where I was juggling financially, just trying to pay my bills and get to the next paycheck. It was tough. I was living in Chicago at the time and working two jobs. I was simply doing my best to survive the cost of living. I even had to go my parents to see if they would help me from time to time, specifically during this holiday season. I had just skipped going home for Thanksgiving and joined my roommate and good friend at his family’s gathering for the holiday. My brother was getting married in just a couple weeks and then a couple weeks later was Christmas. So, as you can expect with two 9 hour round trips home ahead I had to ask for help to get home.
That is just the background of where I was at in my life but it sets up the endeavor I would place in my mind and seek to complete. As is anyone who is not quite at a stable or comfortable point in their life, they become introspective and maybe more sentimental, me in this case. I had been with my job for a year and a half at this point and had really been given great opportunities to develop my writing skill and develop them more.
This is where the light bulb turned on. I was feeding off the turn of the season following Thanksgiving and feeling very thankful for the things I did have, the great friends from near and afar, the new experience of living in a metropolis, and the opportunity to take a step ahead in my career no matter how challenging it was. I wanted to do something to give back, to help others and then hopefully share my experience and inspire others to do the same.
My pockets had holes in them (well not really) so I couldn’t give back financially. I honestly never really wanted to do that anyways. I’ve always thought the best gift one can give is their time. I didn’t want to just do one thing. I wanted to do something that challenged me everyday. There are always these challenges out there like the 30 day eating or fitness challenges. Well with December about to begin I decided my challenge would be to volunteer at least one hour every day somewhere until Christmas. It was going to be my 25 day Christmas challenge.
So the idea was to volunteer somewhere new everyday but I quickly threw that out the window when I realized some volunteer opportunities were just so good not to do again and others simply wanted me to come again.
My biggest regret about not sharing this sooner were those initial thoughts after each day but I’m going to try and recollect from each volunteer opportunity I took on. Here are some of my experiences along the Christmas journey. Let the 25 day Christmas Challenge commence.
Day 25 – The Food Shelf
What started out as an accident and ending up at the wrong church turned into great new friendships, most notably the Susans (had to give you two a shout-out because you welcomed me with open arms immediately into your church community and homes). This new church community would go on to help me get this all started by Vicki letting me help her prepare the church’s food shelf for its weekly donations. What I think I gained from this experience most was that if you let yourself be open you’ll meet new and unexpected friends who will help you on your journey and the kindness community brings. It was also nice to have some comfort of starting this endeavor by not going into a completely new environment
Day 24 – The Food Bank
This day was the first official day of volunteering that I had to research and reach out to find an opportunity. In other words, it was the first day of intimidation. I remember walking into the Northern Illinois Food Bank without a clue where to go or how to get started but the thing I quickly learned is places like this are prepared for clueless volunteers and quickly steer you in the right direction. I joined a team with Donna, Bill, and Bob to package 2,640 meals for kids. 2,640 meals put together in a couple hours or less! That’s astonishing! I was amazed when I heard that number. I quickly realized that with a little organization a few people can really make a difference in so many lives.
Day 23 – Habitat for Humanity Restore
This day was one where I simply went out on a whim and strolled down the street from where I lived to local place I drove by regularly. I asked the manager if I could help in any way and she said, “Sure. We’ll find something for you.” I remember being nervous. I had no idea what it took to keep a place like Habitat for Humanity Restore organized. It didn’t take long for them to get me set up with Pat and Patrick to organize doors and measure doors. I quickly received some door education out of it and got to work with a new team again. They were a pleasure to work with. I remember specifically from this experience that we all have different stories but can still work towards a common cause.
Day 22 – Youth Center
A couple days in some new places with new people and then I returned somewhere familiar. This was the first logistical challenge of the challenge. I had to account for travel from Chicago to Sioux Falls and how I would still fit some time in to give. It worked out very well though. I returned to Sioux Falls to join some familiar faces at the Bowden Youth Center. It helped my friend Tyler still worked there. The Bowden was a staple in my life for two and half years during college. I would go in every Tuesday and hang out with many of who were underprivileged kids, often playing games with them. What I didn’t expect upon my return was to play a game and connect with the kids. It had been a few years since I was there and a lot of new faces had transitioned in. An 11 year old boy comes up to me and says, ” I remember when we started playing this game with you, Chad.” No one told him my name that day. He had remembered from four years prior. It blew my mind and I quickly remembered why the place was so special. It is a safe and inviting place for kids of all ages to get off the streets. It is the consistent people in these kids’ lives like my good friend Tyler who make the difference. The smiles and fun had by all really meant something that day.
Day 21 – Hospitality House
I was back in the comforts of close to home but I had to find something else for the day. Keep in mind some of these I had to research prior and get lined up. I didn’t just roll into a new place and ask to help. Looking back I probably could have. The Hospitality House is a homeless shelter and they let me be tasked with getting winter gear sorted and organized for a giveaway. I recall the coincidence of the day because it was very cold out and I was excited to be able to help prepare gear to combat the cold for those who didn’t have the right stuff.
Day 20 – Soup Kitchen
There is a place in Sioux Falls called The Banquet. I had helped serve there before with the basketball team in college. Meals are planned out at scheduled times throughout the day to offer food to those in need. This was one my favorite days so far. First, I was helping those truly in need during the cold days of winter for the second day in a row. Second, the positive attitudes and appreciation people had, especially two gentlemen. I was serving something like mashed potatoes and I ask one man how he was doing and he says, “finer than a brand new set of snow tires.” I ask another and he says, “It’s a great day. Every day is a great day.” If there was one thing to be learned is that no matter what life throws at you if you can keep a positive attitude you’ll go a long way. Here were a couple guys less fortunate still remaining optimistic. The third thing from the day was I served side-by-side with my little cousin from two hours away who was serving with her youth group. We had no idea we’d both be there. Another happy coincidence.
Day 19 – Good Samaritan Home
This was another one of those just-go-for-it days. It was a Sunday in my hometown of Pipestone. How was I going to find a place to volunteer some time on a Sunday in a town of 4,000 people? I decided to get in my car and drive out to Good Sam, the assisted living facility. If you have never been in one, assisted living facilities can be uncomfortable. There is often not an upbeat vibe. You don’t know if someone is going to bark at you when you are trying to be nice and talk with them. That was my fear at least but I went for it. I couldn’t give up. I found some nurses who helped me find a group of elderly people to sit with. The great thing is I picked an evening where there was an outside group singing Christmas carols. Once I sat with the group my assumptions and judgements were quickly swept out the door. They were curious and grateful to have me join them for dinner. We enjoyed the carols and went around the table sharing stories and inquiring on how our lives were connected. Howard (82) and Marian (92) were my personal favorites. Their lives no longer afforded them the ability to do many things but I was admired by their zeal for life at their age still. Marian was so excited to share many of her life memoirs with me as I walked her back to her room. The experience was so fulfilling. I felt like I had provided some life to them, even if it was just for that day. Hearing their stories gave me a sense of vigor to go make my own stories so I could be excited to share them like they had with me.
Day 18 – Feed My Starving Children
This was a day that really compelled me. I was astonished at how easy it was to provide so much food for so many. I had found out about this organization called Feed My Starving Children from a friend and thought it would be a great volunteering experience. It started with the volunteers watching a video to understand the mission of FMSC. Of course it was a video that really tugged on the heartstrings. It really showed each one of us how important giving our time was. We divided into groups based on country names. I was paired with a bunch of young kids under the country of Ghana. “Manna manna for Ghana!” That became our chant every time we filled a box. My Ghana group and I, along with the other country groups, packaged 160 boxes of Manna rice packs equaling 34560 meals. Enough to feed 95 starving kids for a year. All in about an hour and a half. At the end every meal ever packaged by FMSC is blessed by prayer. It was a truly remarkable experience, simply amazing! One thing I always remember my grandma teaching me and that was the power of working together. She would always say, “Many hands make light work.” The many hands we had on our team and the other teams accomplished something truly powerful in such little time. I was sure to try this experience again.
Day 17 – The Clothes Closet
This day’s opportunity took some research to find. I was able to find a local church near where I lived that had a community clothes closet and needed help sorting clothing. I remember the ladies I worked with being so gracious and full of humor. They listened to my story and told me theirs. We even found some fun clothing and tried some on for the fun of it. What I remember most about it though was how thankful the ladies were for my help. It was a big undertaking for them every week.
Day 16 – Telethon for Muscular Distrophy
This was another opportunity I researched for. It was another one that was so different than the others so far. A new friend I had met at the telethon, Linda, joined me as a jailbird. The goal was to raise enough money so we could get out of jail. Linda and I spent a few hours recording the donations and logging $20,000 for Muscular Distrophy research. It was a fulfilling feeling to raise that much money in a couple hours for a great cause. I was also curious to meet another volunteer like Linda and hear her story. It was fun to hear the passion others had for volunteering.
Day 14 – World Sport Chicago
When I first moved to Chicago I had a friend that connected me to an organization called World Sport Chicago. My background made it a very fun place to get involved with because they are the legacy organization from the 2016 Olympics bid. Even though Chicago did not win the organization became something special for the communities of Chicago as they worked to spread sports opportunities to all reaches of the city. My previous experience with the organization made me very excited to see how I could help with upcoming programming. The picture is with Amy from World Sport Chicago after I helped with some research for the upcoming Spin to Break the Cycle event. The event raises money for WSC to build stronger and safer communities through sport. This volunteering project was especially unique because it is something I have always found myself to have a passion for, using the power of sport to open doors for many and bring people together. It was a precursor to a path that came together months later in my role with Special Olympics. Looking back, I now know why Amy was so appreciative my help with the tedious work that day because I now feel the same way with my role.
Day 11 – Wrapping for Inclusion
This day really hit close to home for me. I found an opportunity to help with some Christmas gift wrapping. Lucky for me I’ve learned to be a decent wrapper from my mom. She is extremely creative and talented when it comes to wrapping. Mine is basic but believe me it took a LOT of observing her to simply figure that out. What was so special about this was the theme, “Wrapping for Inclusion”. The idea was to send kids with special needs to camp. Little did I know at the time that inclusion would become a monumental part of my life for the years after. It was meant to be. Michelle and her mom were short on a wrapper and it happened to be the time I was available. She called it Christmas magic. It is her 11th year doing this. Aside from becoming a ribbon maker master my favorite part was how easy it was sharing stories back and forth with them. I truly enjoyed my time with them. I call that Christmas Magic.
Day 10 – Feed My Starving Children Round 2
I had such a great time with my first go-round at Feed My Starving Children. I could feel the impact and had to get another taste of it. In the words of Shaq, “Kenya dig it?!” Kenya was my assigned country this time around. I got placed with another great group who were volunteering for their work. New group, new record. 226 boxes packed making 48,816 meals to feed 134 kids for a year! How about that for roughly an hour’s time. That put the total meals between my two visits over 80,000 and about 230 kids. Wow! I may just have to do this one again.
Day 9 – Blood Bank
I ventured down the street from my house again for this one. It was a bit different than all the other days. I had to give my time but there was another benefit from it and that was giving my blood. It was my very first time giving blood. I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated and nervous but I went in with a little spirit and thankfully the employees were gracious to join. I told them the mission I was on and they were happy to support me, even my weirdness. Good riddance there was no one else there to see it but I asked them to get a picture of me with the face Kevin expresses in Home Alone as I was stuck with the needle. I think what I learned from this new experience is that if you put goodwill out there it is contagious and people are very willing to join in.
Day 8 – Habitat for Humanity
This was my second time doing a Habitat for Humanity project. I had done it once with my coworkers when I lived in Colorago. What I learned from working with the guys at this one is the scope of H4H is much bigger than building new houses. They trusted this outsider with a hammer to join in and help them renovate a house for a few hours. I even learned a few new techniques. I really appreciated this one because I have always found a sense of joy doing carpentry projects since I was making toy barns and other projects on the farm. It was fun to put that hammer work to a good cause.
Day 7 – Feed My Starving Children – Round 3 with Friends
Every one of the days on this 25 day adventure have been wonderful to say the least but if I had to pick a favorite this one was it. What started out as a challenge for myself had turned into a movement. Well, a very small one but it had lit a spark in couple of my friends. It was like the pay it forward idea came alive. Sean and Delvon wanted to join in and do what they could give back their time during the season. Sean has always been an inspiration for the efforts he does for the homeless. Sean and Delvon were also part of my team with Ultimate Hoops Chicago and brought up the idea of going to Feed My Starving Children as a philanthropic effort. I told you I’d be back! It was a true honor and pleasure making meals side-by-side with them. We laughed a ton and brought a lot of enthusiasm to the effort and gave hope to the kids in South Africa. 102 boxes were packed to make 22,030 meals to feed 62 kids for a year! Another late thanks to Delvon and Sean!
Day 5 – Christmas at the Cathedral
This opporunity ended up being the cap on my goal of 25 Days of Receiving. It actually materialized a few weeks prior. I met Annie at a soup kitchen. I told her what I was doing and she was quick to ask if I wanted to help with a concert. Do good and good things will happen to you. I truly believe that. She connected me to a wonderful lady named Jan who was so welcoming of me to the volunteer group. This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I helped with an event that raised money for the 1st 24 hour homeless shelter in Sioux Falls. That Christmas Magic was evident here. You could feel it! I did end up getting to enjoy the concert. It’s called Christmas at the Cathedral and takes place at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls every year. A choir is assembled and joined by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra as well as nationally renowned tenor and soprano lead each year. It was my first time with a live orchestra. The amount of musical talent and sound was absolutely beautiful. With every sound booming through the high ceilings of the cathedral you could feel the magic resonating throughout your body. To cap it you know I had to of course get a pic with the conductor.
As you can tell there are gaps in the days. That’s because I didn’t have pictures to jog my memory from those days. I think I was apprehensive in sharing all of this until this point because I didn’t complete it. I came four days short of the goal of 25. I looked at it instead of a failure instead of looking at all the successes. All of those successes were greater than the overall theme of what I was trying to accomplish.
I also had a hard time sharing because I thought it was more about “me” and what “I” did. I was afraid to put the attention on me. Now that I have came back to what I experienced I realize it is way more than that. It was important to share what can be accomplished through the efforts of giving. It’s evident at this point the idea is not based on what someone can give but rather how they can give. When it comes to volunteering time is the central factor because one has to give their time but that is important.
What I learned through all of it is how much help is needed in the world to accomplish things. My journey illustrates a bunch of opportunities that are out there but that’s miniscule in the grand picture. I realize how hard it was to schedule but I always found something and once I was there to help it became much more than I expected. I remember how each person I met along the way inspired me to keep going and in-turn how those I shared my goal with became inspired. I felt invigorated and driven with purpose each day. I was pushed way outside my comfort zone but quickly realized how many good people were there to encourage.
Whether it was providing food for others, supporting a cause, giving clothing to food and shelter to those less fortunate, or opportunities to those who may not have them otherwise, I felt like full during this holiday season. Not full in the sense of I was stuffed on food but in the sense that my heart had been filled with what I received. I received something that can’t be measured. It was beyond measure.
By giving my time I had been given some direction. That direction may have steered my career but what I mean is it directed me what was special about humanity. It was the goodwill, the compassion, and the community that encouraged me. I now realize what can be accomplished in little time that impacts many. I hope my story provides a little inspiration for others. It doesn’t have to be ambitious like what I tried to accomplish. Just a little bit of time giving will give you and others something that will be a life lasting impact.
I share this mission of 25 Days of Receiving because it showed so much to me. It challenged me but it also opened my eyes a little more. It taught me to take chances. It taught me to open doors to things I overlook on a daily basis. Most importantly, it showed me the importance of what Christmas is all about. It’s about being with those you love, whether it be family or friends or new acquaintances or a complete stranger. It’s not about what mom or dad are wrapping and giving you. It’s about giving that good, that love, to all. That’s that Christmas Magic. Give and you shall receive, receive the ultimate gift. May we all give that love this holiday season!