Service to others a priceless experience

Saturday, I walked a mile in their shoes. While I wasn’t really wearing someone else’s shoes, for a short time I pictured what it could be like to be homeless.

Early in the morning, long before the temperature hit triple digits, my daughters, my mom and I joined 40 of my fellow Stephens Media/Las Vegas Review-Journal employees and hundreds of others for Las Vegas Rescue Mission’s third annual Walk a Mile in My Shoes event.

While the walk itself wasn’t terribly taxing — even with a bandaged toe after a minor medical procedure — it did start to get hot and we were ever so grateful for the ice cold water provided in several spots along the short course. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have access to water or the refreshing air conditioning in my car that we all enjoyed on the ride home.

The walk, to raise awareness and support for the Las Vegas Valley’s homeless population, especially in the heat of the summer, is just one of hundreds of things happening throughout Southern Nevada to help others and make a difference in their lives.

Last Thursday, I heard about a few of them — including numerous local efforts — when Larry Skaggs, district governor for Rotary International, spoke to members of the Boulder City Sunrise Rotary Club.

The theme of Skaggs’ presentation was what it truly meant to be a Rotarian and how one simple act can make a difference in someone’s life.

Included among his many efforts through Rotary was a trip he took to Mexico to deliver wheelchairs to those in need. He recalled one, in particular, given to a 16-year-old girl.

Skaggs said that chair was the last scheduled to be delivered after a long day’s work, leaving him and fellow Rotarians tired and looking forward to relaxing at the hotel they were staying at. He questioned whether they really needed to make that delivery.

But they went, and the experience is something he said he will never forget.

They arrived at the small, dark home and were graciously welcomed by the girl’s mother, who apologized for the condition of her home. Skaggs said he stumbled over something on the ground and it was only after his eyes adjusted to the darkness that he realized that what he had stumbled upon was the recipient of the wheelchair.

Her smile after she was lifted into the wheelchair lit up the room, he said.

His words hit home and reminded me of the many things I have done over the years.

Through my affiliation with the Jaycees, I spent many a Christmas Eve working as one of Santa’s helpers as we delivered gifts and candy- and orange-filled stockings to hundreds of children. For some of those children, it would be the only gift they received. Their joy and surprise at Santa’s arrival was indescribable. It sustained us all year and made Christmas Eve something we all looked forward to. I even recruited my husband to play Santa after we were married.

Not a year goes by that I don’t get a little misty-eyed on Dec. 24 thinking about those children’s smiles.

I also volunteered to help a chapter of the Assistance League with its Operation School Bell program that provided needy children with new outfits for school — from the skin out — along with assorted supplies they would need to complete their assignments.

Last year, I spent the summer gathering school supplies with my co-workers to make sure that every child at our adopted elementary school had a new backpack filled with school supplies. The expressions on the children’s faces brought smiles to our own faces, but it was the parents’ appreciation, knowing the time, energy and money that went into getting the backpacks, that made the experience all the more priceless.

It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get from helping someone else. I can tell you there is a great sense of accomplishment as well as camaraderie. It’s also fun, even if it involves a lot of hard work.

While I take pride in what I have done for those in need, I take greater pride in the fact that the spirit of volunteerism and the need to help others is something I have instilled in my children.

When we arrived at the rescue mission Saturday morning midway through out walk, my girls were so excited to tell me that they had been there before — several times — volunteering to help serve meals. They explained how grateful the recipients of those meals were.

They had made a difference. And more importantly, they wanted to do more, even if it meant giving up one of their last chances to sleep in late before school starts.

All it takes to make that difference is a little time. I’m sure that most clubs or organizations would welcome a volunteer or two, even for a limited amount of time and even if you aren’t a member.

A simple gesture on your part could mean the world to the person on the receiving end. Give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

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