Volunteering from the Heart—Sharing Knowledge and Embracing Causes
By María Elena Echeverría
I was fortunate to find myself in a sabbatical year with a professional development project that could be worked on while away from home, so I took advantage and visited my country of origin, Mexico.
While savoring the weather and warmth of the people, I had an opportunity to be in San Miguel de Allende, a most beautiful “magic town.” It was there that I encountered the force of volunteering as many of the retirees living there did not come to San Miguel de Allende just to be passive, but to initiate volunteer projects in the town and the outskirts. The poor, the elderly, the children, even the dogs and cats living on the streets all are benefiting. Foreigners use their skills to help, and their wonderful achievements are palpable.
I, too, was inspired, and after a bit of research, I was able to meet Donna Juanita Quathamer, the driving force for the creation of Casa de los Angeles, a daycare for single moms who work or study in San Miguel. Fund-raising was essential as were donations of the land and of building materials, all of which combined to allow the building of an amazing place. Among other angels in Casa de los Angeles are Executive Director Bonnie Watt, Administrator José Miguel Hernández, and Volunteer Coordinator Cale Johnstone, a welcoming ambassador from our first contact.
The children are fed, educated, loved, and cared for, all for free. Each mother is required to be working or studying while her children attend the daycare and each is also required to volunteer for 4 hours a week. Casa de Los Angeles is a wonderful place that receives volunteers with open arms. In the 15 years since they opened, they have hosted over 1,800 volunteers from 42 countries. It has a wing for volunteers with five shared bedrooms and a kitchen. Juanita clearly had the vision to promote it as an opportunity for volunteers, who in turn enrich the place.
What a wonderful experience! I presented a preventive dental care puppet show to children four to six years old. I howled like a wolf (with a toothache, poor wolf) and oinked when the pigs explained about toothaches and cavities as a result of candies and a lack of brushing and flossing. The children were so attentive; their faces were a mirror of expressions and feelings. The puppets were magical and connected with all the audience!
I will be back as soon as possible and hope to set up a small clinic to examine the children’s mouths and ensure there is follow-up.
There is still so much to do. Volunteering never ends. I invite you all to find opportunities to volunteer, using your languages and particular skills. It is the most wonderful feeling; your hearts will be full of the magic of accomplishment and gratitude. For more information, visit casadelosangeles.org.