59: The Heart of a Home

59: The Heart of a Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

The Heart of a Home

It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.

~Author Unknown

My best friend’s mother was a social worker in the mid-nineties in Detroit, Michigan. Because of that, my friend Victoria and I were introduced early to the world of volunteering.

We did plenty of charity work, loading non-perishables into boxes, setting out place settings for hungry children, organizing coat drives. We always had a good time, and picking up the habit young, we continued to volunteer whenever we had time, often even when we didn’t. It became second nature. Hairstyles came and went, and so did boyfriends, but Victoria and I found places to donate our time because that’s how we were raised.

One particular morning we had signed up for “Paint The Town,” an organization in Detroit to help low-income homeowners spruce up their properties. We were assigned a dilapidated house in one of the worst areas of the city. I was afraid as we approached the front door, not knowing who we would find on the other side. We knocked three times quickly and stepped back, waiting to be let in.

When the door opened, my mouth did, too. Standing there was a little old lady with wisps of white hair and a dainty purple apron tied around her midsection.

“Hello,” she said, “I’m Amelia. Please come in and I will show you where to start.” Her smile shone brightly. “I was just baking some cookies for you to eat when you’ve finished with your work.”

As she led us to the parts of her house that needed painting, my heart softened. Here was one of the scariest-looking houses in the city, but behind its doors was a sweet old lady with a cane and a big smile.

Here we were coming to help her, and instead she was doing something for us — baking homemade cookies and serving us tea!

There was no age barrier that day as we worked on Amelia’s house. She stayed close by, talking to us as we painted, telling us about her native Ireland and how she came to Detroit.

I felt so sad for her then, living in such a poor part of the neighborhood with no one to keep her company. When I told her so she scoffed at me.

“Nonsense!” she scolded. “I love it here. This is my home… even if it is falling down around me. I feel blessed that you girls came to help me fix it up, but I’m happy here. I’ve watched the neighborhood change, seen people come and go, but I always stay. You would be amazed at the camaraderie this little city has. We may all be different on the outside, but on the inside, we are all just after the same thing… community. It’s a beautiful thing you girls are doing. Keep it up. Nothing will make you happier than giving to other people, and just when you least expect it, I promise you, good will come your way — and just when you need it.”

Amelia looked into my eyes and touched my heart. What she said to me that day stayed with me always, and replayed itself as I took on new volunteer work in different parts of town.

I am sure Amelia has passed away and I am uncertain as to whether her sweet little house is still standing, but what she taught me that day has stayed with me.

As you volunteer, take what you can out of every scenario. Find the positive everywhere. And never ever stop volunteering. As you make it a routine, it will become second nature, and all of the lives you touch will be forever grateful. Or maybe it will be you who is grateful, just like I was, from all I learned spending time with the little old lady with the broken-down home that was so full of love.

~Kate White

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