This is the third and final installment of the profiles of the people behind Teamworks. Parts 1 and Parts 2 can be found here and here. We’re a team of volunteers inspired by community and motivated to give our time.
Alex was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan to a Japanese mother and a Hawaiian-born American father. That means that he can speak both impressively and effortlessly in both Japanese and English. He earned a degree from Pomona College in California in what best be described as a mixed major. Philosophy – Politics, and Economics (PPE). He got his first taste of volunteering there as he mentored incoming international students who were far from home and needed all kinds of help, from getting a cell phone to tutoring in their studies.
No stranger to travel, Alex and his friend packed up his bags after graduating and moved to Portland where they both worked and explored the city together. After stagnating at his job, and meeting his girlfriend who is moving to China, Alex decided to go to China with her. Not fearing a new language, he enrolled in a six-month Chinese language immersion program in China starting in September.
That meant he had a couple of months before he could go. Most of us, myself included, would have worked extra hard and saved up those last few dimes before embarking on an adventure like that.
Not Alex. He quit his job to do “better things.”
Thanks to inspiration from one of his night class professors at Portland State University, one of those “better” things turned out to be volunteering with our Teamworks team through HandsOn. It’s an experience with which he has been very happy, especially getting to know the people and developing relationships.
Since this was Alex’s first volunteering experience with HandsOn, and it’s been so positive for him, I asked what he would tell a person sitting on the fence, wondering if they should take a chance and volunteer.
“Until you try, you don’t really know,” he replied. “It’s best to explore all the options out there.” Alex is right. If you don’t try volunteering, you’ll never really know if it’s for you.
He departs for China in a couple weeks and he really wants to volunteer over there to compare the volunteering experiences. He promised to keep us all informed on what he finds. A promise we intend to hold him to. 🙂
Good luck, Alex!
Kyoko will be the first to say that her English isn’t very good. I will be the first to tell her she is wrong.
Kyoko also comes from Japan like Alex, but from the southwest – Fukuoka City. She came to America eleven months ago having had only instruction in reading and writing English. Not speaking. She joined an international group of students at the Portland English Language Academy where she has been working diligently to be able to converse in English.
When I asked her how she came from being an elementary school teacher in Japan to volunteering in a blueberry patch in Oregon, she told me this story. (I’m paraphrasing her words, but I hope her story still shines through. They are some of the most heart-felt words I’ve heard in a long time.)
“I was a school teacher for children, a job that I enjoyed. Then they assigned me the task of training other teachers which was difficult. The hours got longer and longer until I was working until midnight. I had no time for anyone, even my students.
My grandmother lived next door to me at the time. She was so close, but I never got to see her because I worked too much. Finally, one day, I went to visit. I leaned in closely to hear her and she told me, “Life is one time. Do what you want.”
My grandmother died the next day.
I really wanted to learn English so I quit my job and came to school in America to learn. After I studied for many months, I wanted to get out and experience America and English in a different way. So I joined HandsOn, to practice my English and jump into American society.
This has been a good experience so now I ‘advertise’ to my fellow students to go volunteer.”
She ended her story by asking me if ‘advertise’ was the right way to say it. I said it was just fine. I gave her a few other choices, such as ‘encouraging’ to which she listened carefully.
Kyoko is heading back to Japan soon, leaving with a new proficiency and a lot of new friends. Although she’s going, she’s not leaving before she ‘encouraged’ us all to remember that life is ‘one time.’ And also not before her words touched our hearts.
Leslie grew up a volunteer. It was just something her family always did.
After graduating from Humboldt College in California with a degree in Environmental Science, she joined the Peace Corps. After a month-long, crash course in her host country’s native language, she travelled to Armenia where she taught environmental education. The experience taught her much more than I could possibly put in this profile and even kept her connected to her Armenian host all these years later.
With a skill in teaching environmental education as her trump card, she toured the country, from the wilds of far away New Hampshire to the windy city of Chicago. Eventually, her travels brought her to Portland where she’ll be getting her masters in Leadership in Sustainability Education at Portland State University.
One of the things she loves about Portland is the “built environment” of the east side. When she strolls in her neighborhood, she is close enough to talk to her neighbors sitting on their porch. In fact, she told me with a hint of surprise in her voice, that she’s gotten to know more of her neighbors here in Portland in one year, than in all her time in Chicago.
Because she has worked in non-profits all her adult life, she’s developed a special appreciation for volunteers. When she was a paid employee she always took time to thank and appreciate the volunteers she worked with. For example, during Volunteer Appreciation Week, she’d bring cookies to the lounge as a small way to say ‘thanks’ for all the time the volunteers had put in.
Having this much experience in volunteer circles, I expected that Leslie would have some encouraging words for the readers of this blog who want to contribute more to their communities, but may feel inhibited. She didn’t disappoint.
“Everybody’s passionate about something. If you don’t know what your passion is, dabble. Find your passion. Find a way to get involved. Then take action.”
Get involved. Take action. Make a difference.
Teamworks Final Thoughts
To get a sense of what Teamworks really is, I hope you go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 because the secret of this volunteer program through Hands On lies collectively in all of our stories. Each of us has a unique perspective on volunteering and giving time. Each aspect of giving time is part of a larger whole, but it’s too large for one person to describe.
Maybe Teamworks is also like a book. Not just any book, but that classic piece of literature which you were forced to read in high school. If you were like me, you skimmed through it, catching the main storyline, but not really feeling anything. Then, as an adult, you went back and reread that book. When you finished you might have come away with a deeper meaning that before you only glimpsed.
As we pass through life in our isolated offices, insulated cars, and locked homes, we are skimming through the book of life, just catching a glimpse of the story that’s really unfolding. To me, this Teamworks team was like rereading that story. It opened my eyes to my community, helped me to develop relationships with new friends (who now feel like old friends), and inspired a deeper connection with a community that I only thought I knew.
Thank you to all my Teamworks friends. I hope we can reread this story of life together soon.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Volunteered at Zenger Farms in Portland. It was the final chapter in the story of our Teamworks team … for now.
* Note to readers – No posts for couple days, as I will be without Internet. However, they will resume as soon as I’m reconnected. No later than Monday … However, giving time will continue. As I hope it does for you.