AmeriCorps Week, the Yahoo! Mother Board has asked us to talk about volunteerism.
There's nothing more humbling than having to ask for help. I know. I've done it.
When I left my husband and came back to L.A., I had nothing. We came with our suitcases, our cat, and I think I had $100 in my wallet. After 7 years with my husband, that was all I had left. I had no job, no bank account, no car, and we were living with my parents.
With the help of my parents and food stamps from the government, I started a new life. I got a job, and then I made arrangements with my parents to take over one of their car payments so that I would have transportation. And then I had to go about finding my own place to live.
My parents were, of course, willing to have us stay with them as long as we needed, but I needed our own space. I needed to get to work on strengthening our new definition of family. I needed to be a single parent on my own.
A friend at work helped me find a place to live. That was the easy part. The hard part was making it a home.
I had no bed, the girls had no beds. I had no kitchen appliances, no fridge, no couch, no dining room table. I ended up crying to two friends at work, admitting my feelings of failure to provide for my children. The only thing worse than admitting it out loud was the knowledge that I couldn't do it alone.
My friends urged me to ask for help. So I took a deep breath and started the task of writing one of the most trying emails I've ever had to write. In the "To:" line was every single person I'd met at work and the subject was "Help."
And the replies flowed back. Someone had an old futon: bed for me - check. Someone else had a set of dishes. Someone else had a fridge. My boss had a dollhouse for the girls that his daughters had outgrown. Before I knew it, I had so many offers that I actually had to start turning some down!
We moved the first week of December. Two weeks later, my department surprised me with the news that our family had been the beneficiary of their Adopt-a-Family for the season. In addition to the grocery gift cards that freed up funds for me to buy my own presents to the girls, they'd bought me every item still outstanding on my list of things I needed to complete our home.
I was overwhelmed by their generosity. I couldn't get over the idea that people had made such an effort for me, for us. I don't think there was anyone that had received my email request that didn't reply with some offer. Even if they had nothing to give, they offered to help me move. They offered to watch my kids while I moved! They let me know they were here for me. More importantly, no one judged me harshly, as I feared. Their support helped me gain back some self-esteem.
Of course since then, I've become someone that gives to the Adopt-a-Family program. My girls and I regularly volunteer whenever we can. I'm proud to be a part of Riley's PTA, where we not only raise funds for the school, but we have also sponsored fundraisers for Haiti and the Children's Hospital.
Giving back is a source of pride for me in knowing that we've gone from those asking for help to being able to offer help.