I was in boy scouts and was required to volunteer throughout grade school. I enjoyed being around my friends, but I didn’t understand why I was volunteering. My parents volunteered in numerous capacities and tried to impress upon me the importance of giving back. I rarely volunteered with opportunities that matched my passions, nor did I actively search for them. Even though volunteering was important to my family, it wasn’t a high priority for me at the time.
My parents were talking in our kitchen nook one day and in the middle of conversation, my mom collapsed. Thankfully my dad was there and caught her, but he soon realized she had become victim to a seizure. He remembered what they were from when he was a child and his dad had seizures. It turned out that my mother was exhibiting symptoms based on the cancer that had been growing in her brain.
Everything changed. Our eating habits. Our interactions. Our extracurricular activities. Even how our friends acted toward us. I remember meal after meal was brought to our house by family friends, and neighbors, and people we had never met. I know there were a few families behind the scenes coordinating everything and I am thankful for everything they did, despite me not remembering who they were.
What really stood out to me was this. It was because of my mom that those families wanted to help us. It was my mom who showed all of them love and gave her time in effort for nothing in return. She created a community who cared about one another and I cherish her ability to do so.
On June 28, 2005, after 2 and half years of fighting brain cancer, in and out of remission, my mom, Elizabeth Peierls, passed away. Again, friends stopped by with their blessings and food. Others with words of reflection about my mom.
What I gathered was that my mother was a sun. She attracted others in an orbital fashion while giving off love and heat to nurture their souls. With bright red hair, she stood out among most and laughed like no one I have ever heard before, or since. Her ability to bring others together in hope and inspiration, especially in the times of need and grief, was her gift.
It has been 10 years since her passing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. More importantly, I have made the effort to understand how she would have raised me and what kind of values she would have passed on. Based on the combination of hers and my dad’s guidance, I began to mold myself the way I believed best.
I traveled to 4 continents in the fall of 2013, with the expectation that I would push my comfort zone. What I didn’t realize was that each environment that absorbed me expanded my definitions of need, want, and privilege more than I could myself. I saw similar needs in many countries relating to poor health sanitation, lack of education and medicine, and close proximity living quarters made from trash. I also witnessed the need for equality and understanding, the absence of inspiration, and the desire to be happy. I’m not saying that everything I saw was bad, and in fact, many of my best memories today originated from that trip. What I am saying is that I had never seen the need for action in my life more than I saw it then.
I knew that when I returned I wanted to sell my belongings and purchase a van to travel the country. I wanted to volunteer. A lot. And I got really into filming my adventures. Then it hit me. I could volunteer, film the volunteering, and encourage college students to volunteer! That might be something my parents would do.
I returned home – complete in a hazy state of culture shock. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it alone. I approached my friend Brad Burns, who I have known since we attended Camp Champions back when we were 10. “You want to travel the country, volunteer, and film it all?”.
“Sure!” So we started with this idea.
I bought an RV, which Brad’s brother creatively gave the name Harvey. Turned out that all of the planning that we had been doing toward the east coast, across the northern part of the country, and wrapping up in Alaska, was for naught. We had to cancel all of our tour dates with nearly 20 nonprofits because our friend Patrick’s mom discovered mold in Harvey.
For the next 4 months, we tore Harvey wall from wall rebuilding his insides and outsides. Meanwhile, Brad’s uncle brought up the idea of applying for 501(c)3 Public Charity status and altering the idea a little. We incorporated, formed a Board of Directors, and Passion Impact was born. The original mission was to help college students build a long-term habit of volunteering.
It took us 4 and a half months after leaving on June 15, 2014, to reach and get secured in Portland. Harvey broke down a lot. Over 10 times with the first being only 20 minutes from our original embarkation point. Throughout that time, we volunteered with multiple organizations in each city that we stayed and continued to build the framework for our vision. Granted, we had not made it to Portland or even thought about it as a home base at that time. We still wanted to travel and film.
For each person we met on our trip, I channeled my mom and her ability to listen. I was genuinely interested in each of their stories and experiences. You could say that I looked for the sun in each of them. We began to notice that the more we passed through towns and cities and the less we stayed in them, the less of a chance we had at actually changing the behavior of students. So, we set our eyes on Portland for the long haul.
Once reaching Portland, we all secured part-time jobs and began our work. The plan that we had originally put together melted away as we soon figured out what life would actually be like in the PNW. Despite all of our separate calendars, we found a way to grow Passion Impact slowly over the next 7 months.
I quit my part time job at the end of April and as of May 1, began working full time for Passion Impact. With this time, we have been able to design Xplore and Ignite: Adventuring, Understanding, and Building Community. In designing this program, I thought heavily on the past two years of my life and how what I had done allowed me to give to others. Referring back to the importance of giving that my mom and dad had taught me while growing up, I see a possibility for this program to thrive.
Xplore and Ignite High school program is designed to help students explore their city, it’s needs, and their passions to understand how they can better their community. This means meeting with nonprofits in their community and volunteering; reflecting on these experiences and why these organizations exist to give back; talking with community members about the problems they see and experience; and then designing projects as a team that take everything they learn and put it into a plan that students can choose to take on if they would like.
Xplore and Ignite 18+ Program will be meeting for 10 Sunday evenings to enjoy genuine and intelligent discussion over a FREE dinner in order to create something beautiful for the community with new friends.
Considering these are pilot programs, we have no clue if this first iteration will work. But then again, it is an adventure in and of itself. As we persist with our mission, we will eventually reach the point where we continually help students can volunteer their passions, love their community, and grow into happy and engaged community members.
Students deserve to chase something they are passionate about and to love it thoroughly. We want to help them get there and believe that this program is the first step.
This is something I could see my mom doing. This is dedicated to you Libby.
A rare breed indeed. From pants stitched entirely out of patches, to backgrounds bearing expansive travel, the random assortment of folks who volunteer at Food Not Bombs are one of a kind. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Food Not Bombs, it is a coalition of people who have formed chapters all over the world to provide food to the homeless and needy. Depending on the chapter, the food is sourced from either farmer’s markets, local grocery stores, farms, or local community gardens. We have volunteered at one of the eight Los Angeles Foot Not Bombs for nearly 2 months.
The specific chapter, to which we traveled weekly, has thrived for over 13 years. Faces became familiar while the food remained fantastic. We arrived between 3:30 and 4:30 every Sunday to help chop the vegetables for the stew. Having cooked veggie-stew in the past (because of my father’s healthy obsession), I was privy to the fact that potatoes, and other hard vegetables, needed to be thrown in first, in order for them to soften.
Once the potatoes, squash, turnips, and beets were minced and dumped into the stew, it was on to the crying party! Onions galore. We cut these as quickly and as safely as possible. Then on to the red, yellow, green, and purple bell peppers; cucumber, zucchini, and green beens. Next we cut lettuce, tomatoes, plums, peaches, and strawberries for the salad. Each week was always a surprise of vegetables and fruits, which made cutting a continuous learning process.
Meditation can be seen by some as a specific way to put your mind at ease, but it encompasses much more. As our muscles focused on dicing and chopping, our minds were carried away in the discussion of life, passions, personal pet peeves, and questions that would challenge each other’s beliefs. Mind you, there were new people each week, but it seemed as though the atmosphere was a constant.
Once everything was cooked, we loaded up and would drive to Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. By the time we reached the square, there was already a line of at least 70 people while more would trickle in as we continued to set up. We each found a job that needed to be done whether it was handing out forks and napkins, serving rice, beans, stew, or salad, or just mingling with the regulars. There was always something to be done.
It was different at Food Not Bombs. We also ate the food that we served. We are all equal. I dig. Oh and the food was delicious.
Yea, there were the occasional crazy people. They need to eat too. There were also the intellectuals who you may never have guessed lived on the streets. I would sit and listen to them and their stories. About wars once fought, jobs once conquered, families once loved. Every time I sat and opened my ears, they would soon be filled with ideas that made me recognize my own privilege and respect for life. I have a constant question that I ask people, because it’s what I do: What was the best part of your day?
More frequent than not, the response I received from those at Pershing Square was, “When I woke up this morning.”
Find out how you can get involved with Food Not Bombs at www.foodnotbombs.net
There is a set of winding bridges in Norway that island-hop from town to town on the Norwegian Sea. Luscious green mounds of ocean toppers that protrude from the healthy blue sea. The sky forms itself in the waves that caress the edges of the islands making itself known to those who stare into it.
Your friend pulls the car over at the next restaurant. The gravel under the tires crunch as the car glides into a spot. You hold the restaurant’s door open as your friends thank you and walk in to the lively atmosphere. As you sit, a waitress brings menus and silverware to the table. She hands everything to you, smiles, then returns back to the bar. There’s a sound. It’s a scratching sound. Everyone is doing it. You are all scratching your heads looking disheveledly at the letters that seem to make up words on the menus. Norwegian words look similar to english, but don’t make complete sense.
You wake up and realize that your dreams have been feeling more and more real recently. You sit up and your stomach churns. It’s been a little while since you had some food. 6:00 AM is early enough for a visit to the diner down the street. Your parents are still asleep, but if they were up, it’s not like they would go with you anyways. The sun is barely surfacing over the mountains in the distance as you tilt your hat lower. School started last week, but there hasn’t been much joy there yet.
Your skateboard clicks over the sidewalk toward the diner. The sun blinks at you through the tree branches in time to the whistles of the morning larks. You smile and slow to a stop outside the diner. An older gentleman approaches leaning on a cane with a tennis ball on the bottom. You hold the door for him as you pop your skateboard up on your shoe. He nods and creases his cheeks as the smile from behind his weathered lips appear.
You file in after him and sit at a table by yourself in the corner – skateboard sliding back and forth underneath your feet. The waitress is new this morning and she brings you a menu asking if you would like orange juice. You smile and nod at her as you unfold the menu. The letters that are so neatly arranged behind the plastic vale looking back at you tell a story of your potential full stomach. However, you do not understand what any of them mean.
De ja vu. It’s an instant translation back to your dream. Instead of Norway, it is your local diner. Instead of Norwegian, it is English. Shouldn’t you know how to read a language so prevalent in your society? You are almost in fifth grade. What happened?
The waitress returns and you tell her to surprise you with something under five dollars. It is delicious.
School comes and lingers like the clouds outside that are ready to unleash their loads of water on the gardens below. The bell rings and you sling your bag over your shoulder. Your skateboard resides in your other arm, steering you through the sea of students. The few remaining rays of sunshine beckon you toward the double door exit and a bright red shirt confronts you as you breach the grass outside. It squats down to your level and then a face becomes visible. She smiles and tells you her name is Leah.
She notices you staring at the stitched logo of the company that she represents and tells you it reads Jumpstart.
“We are here to work toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed.” And then points at your chest as she winks.
“I would love to help you learn how to read.”
If this piece helps you feel grateful for your ability to read or if you’re grateful for the services that Jumpstart provides, share this post with someone who you believe is already helping or is willing to help with this initiative.
To find out more about Jumpstart and how you can help, visit: www.jstart.org.
To view the bridges in Norway click here.
When we finally made it into Phoenix, we knew we needed to find some places to volunteer. So we started asking around. The answer came sooner than we thought. When we asked the guy we were staying with, Zac told us about a group he had worked with in the past: a community garden called Phoenix Renews.
We got in contact with one of the lead organizers and found out there was an event that Saturday! So we called as many people as we knew in Phoenix and invited them all to come out with us and volunteer.
When Stefan, Zac, and I got out there, we must have been a bit early because there was no one around from the group. So we decided to explore a bit on our own and walked around the magnificent area. There were countless hand-built plots. Most of them were full of all kinds of vegetables and flowers. There were benches and small covered areas and even a temporary house (the rule was no permanent structures). Many of the plots were painted and decorated. There was just life and creativity everywhere. It was an amazing place to walk around, and I felt myself getting excited to be a part of it.
After nearly 20 minutes of exploring this magical place, we saw some new people arrive. And low and behold, they were the ones we had been waiting for. We were approached by two volunteers, Krystal and Katie, and two volunteer leaders, Cindy and Katie (yes, two Katies). We greeted everyone and after a short conversation marveling at the garden around us, leader-Katie explained what she would have us doing that day.
Dust is a big problem in Phoenix, and cars stir up a lot of it, causing the dust to settle everywhere and sap much needed water from the crops. So we were tasked with drawing out and lining a parking area to consolidate the dust clouds to one area. We began by moving large pieces of crushed asphalt out to the site in wheelbarrows.
Just a few chunks of asphalt could get heavy quick, and more than once, gravity won out over balance, tipping the wheelbarrows over and dumping their contents. We got used to the weight however, and in less than half an hour, the lot was created.
After we finished the work so quickly, Katie had us start driving signposts around the area. It was hard work and the sun was definitely getting to us at this point. She insisted that we take breaks every fifteen minutes or so. Probably a smart idea. After the main areas were all designated, we took some time to walk around some areas we hadn’t seen before.
Toward the back, there was a stone garden with spirals and structures made of river ricks. There was also a cool social area under a large tree. There were cut stumps for chairs in a circle in the shade. After our final exploration, we invited everyone back to Zac’s place for lunch and swimming.
All in all, a pretty excellent day.
When we arrived at Mujer Obrera for the first time, the gates were locked. We were told to arrive around 10am, but our friend Julian had to be at work soon after, so he dropped us off a bit early at a park down the street. We said our goodbyes and surveyed the beautiful park we were in. We took the extra time to reflect on our time with him, and we read a few passages out of the book he had given us: You Are The World. Good stuff. When it was time, we walked back to the locked gate, only to find it still locked. We called our contact Carolina and found out that the man in charge wouldn’t be there until 1pm that day. A bit of a problem considering our lack of transportation and lack of sunscreen.
Nonetheless, we walked the four and a half miles back to the NASA Service Center where Harvey was getting another hip replacement. Despite the intense heat, it was a fun walk. We were exploring a new city and, while exhausting, had an excitement to it. We made it back uneventfully and got to work on what we could do with our limited means. So after another day spent working on our laptops in the mechanic’s waiting area, we were more than eager to get our hands dirty the next day.
We had Harvey back from the shop with tentative assurances that he was road ready. So we drove him over to the garden around 10:30am the next day, and sure enough, the gates were open. As we walked in, we were greeted by a small group of would-be gardeners, all about our own age, working at re-potting Aloe Vera plants to be sold at a farmers market. We greeted Carolina and introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. They were friendly and welcoming, though it seemed clear they were not used to seeing new faces.
We asked Carolina to put us to work, and at first she seemed stumped. The head honcho was the one to ask about jobs for newbies, and he was otherwise engaged for the moment. So she showed us around the repurposed residential lot. It was much bigger than we would have guessed from the street, and they had a wide variety of crops already growing tall. The sunflowers stand out most in my mind, some of them almost as big as my head, and covered in a healthy drift of bees. Towards the back were also a huge stack of adobe bricks and more that were still drying in the sun. They would soon be used in the construction of an oven. We walked in a large circle and eventually made it back to the shaded bench with the now re-potted aloe plants.
Carolina put us to work temporarily clearing small clover and morning glory from an irrigation ditch that ran nearly half the length of the lot. The plants may have been small, but they were sprouting up all down the bottom and sides of the ditch, clogging and stealing the water; water that was already dangerously scarce. While Stefan carried out this task, I followed behind him, removing the loosened dirt that was left behind his carnage. But before too long, our host, Guillermo, emerged.
He wore a bandana on his forehead and a wide straw hat, and looked perfectly in place in this garden of toil and growth. He came out with tools and a sense of purpose I envied. Carolina introduced us, and I asked how I could be of use. After some pondering, he set me digging a hole to plant some citronella plants. They would help keep mosquitoes and other pests away from the garden. Most of the dirt I moved was dry and dead, although near the bottom there remained some life. We placed the plant and then filled the hole with a mixture of healthy soil and chicken poop.
With the plants in the ground, the next task was a relaxing one. The Dia de los Muertos festival would begin in November and for the flowers to be ready, they would have to be planted on the first of July. We all sat in chairs in a circle and began to break open dried flower pods. These were leftover from the previous year’s celebration and most were rich with seeds.
Sitting in the shade breaking open the seed pods, we had cooled considerably. The work could have been monotonous, but instead it was peaceful and satisfying. During this time, Guillermo had disappeared into his trailer and in a moment, he returned to us with a bounty of honeydew, strawberries, and papaya, most of which had been grown right here in La Mujer Obrera. He explained to us that papaya is very important in developing countries and is often considered holy. They are incredibly nutritious and fruit year-round. Even the leaves have healing properties and can be used to treat wounds. Eating the sacred fruit we were dirty and we were clean. We felt full and we felt happy.
After we ate and finished the flower seeds, Guillermo informed us that it was time for a blessing to Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain and fertility. We could participate if we wanted. The group followed Guillermo over to a small shrine tucked away in some trees. He lit some incense and individually he had us sweep some over our head and into our heart. We each gave a small blessing to the health and growth of the plants and food around us. Then we walked around the farm blessing each plot and the life that was growing there. We once again circled back to the benches and the shrine.
At this point there was little else planned for the day. We decided to go ahead and finish the remaining flower buds and talk. The hottest part of the day was approaching and the party was coming to an end. We thanked Guillermo for everything and promised him we would send love his way as well as more volunteers.
I can’t wait to return to El Paso and see my fellow farmers again.