Back when I lived in Chicago, I belonged to a really great organization called Chicago Cares. Here is how the organization describes itself on its Web site:
Chicago Cares designs volunteer opportunities with you in mind. Each
program is created by our staff to meet a pressing community need and involves
hands-on work (no office work or fundraising). You are led by a trained
volunteer leader who knows what needs to be done and how - so you don't have
to. Our offerings are flexible; you serve when you have time. Each program
involves at least four volunteers, which means you are never alone and will
always make a new friend.
Working with the group, I helped put in the windows of a Habitat for Humanity house, I cleaned up an inner-city park, and I painted fences and classrooms of schools that were sorely in need. But the project I returned to most often, and that touched me most deeply, was serving a Sunday meal at the Salvation Army. I know that I helped ensure that many men, women and children came in from the cold and enjoyed at least one hot meal, but the person I think I really helped was myself.
When you live in a city like Chicago, it is easy to become numb to the homeless and the indigent. Whether on Michigan Ave. or the West Side, you scurry from the train station, collar pulled up, averting your eyes from the bedraggled man shaking a change cup, blocking your path to work, or the gym or to shop. But as I served coffee at the Salvation Army, I was forced to look its patrons in the eyes and see their humanity. Some of the folks that filed through on a Sunday were belligerent, some polite, some quiet, some gregarious, some mentally ill, some down on their luck, and some bold--I got asked for a date a couple of times. It occurred to me once that every person in that cafeteria was someone's child. Very likely, on the day they were born, someone held each one of them lovingly and wished for them the world, just like my parents did for me. Knowing that makes it harder for me to avert my eyes and walk by when I see someone on the street and in need. I am better for my experience at the Salvation Army.
Mahatma Gandhi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Truer words were never spoken.
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Hochmah and Musar
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