My first time Volunteering in the USA: OH, KY

One of the very best ways to take a break from it all, do something life-changing for you and give back to society is Volunteering! Triple-whammy impact. ๐Ÿค—๐Ÿค—๐Ÿค—

It can be much more impactful to break out of your city or town, travel to a new place and offer up your talents and self to be used, wherever help is needed. I accessed an amazing opportunity via responding to an advertisement in the SJNCC paper. The ad called for volunteers from the UIUC St. John Newman Center our on-campus Catholic church. Signup was a breeze, the interview went fast and the all-inclusive cost was super-affordable. The fee included Transportation (from Champaign IL to Cincinnati OH and Northern Kentucky- 3 states away), food and lodging. All activities & arrangements were coordinated by Rev. Sister Janice Keenan (Order of St. Francis of Immaculate Conception) and Chris Lynn Gaietto Lemmon, the awesome Volunteer Program Director in Cincinnati.

Pictured above, standing L-R: Sr. Jenny Favarin, Normanda Morais Arauyo, Sr. Janice Keenan, Dr. Brian Gordon, Emily Pinheiro, Jessica Lambert and Chinweoke Eke.

We left campus in a convoy, all eight of us in 2 comfy cars each driven by Sr. Janice and Brian. We shared jokes, stories, hearty debates and snacks while getting to know each other and making short gas/bio- stops in IL, IN and OH. Our crew was of all ages, continents and backgrounds; from our “dishy daddy” Brian, a PhD student to 18-year old super-hyper freshman Gary Weber who kept us all entertained with his creative antics. We all share a deep passion for our Catholic faith and this permeated all our conversations and activities.

This picture was taken after dinner at the Pinecroft House of Peace, a fabulously serene Retreat center where ANYONE can go for a period of peace, utter calm and prayer with the Nuns. All of us are below. 

Top-level (L-R): Normanda Arauyo Morais (a PhD student on exchange from Brazil), Elsa Sunny, Brian Gordon, Sr.Janice, Sr. Marie and Sr.Madeline.

Floor-level (L-R): Emily Pinheiro, Jess Lambert, Chinweoke and Gary Weber.

This was such an awesome volunteer mission trip because we did EVERYTHING! We had options to choose from and I was lucky to partake in the following:

1) Helped to pack up, clean, repaint and rehabilitate a H.O.N.K house (Housing Opportunities for Northern Kentucky) ..

2) Delivered food to housebound invalids and seniors via the Meals on Wheels program in CinCin. While waiting for the food packs, I had a great conversation with the MonW Coordinator, Emily & Sis Janice below.

3) Prepared food & toiletries supply bags for residents at a Women’s’ shelter…

4) Cooked & served food to the homeless at the Soup Kitchen (Hot Chili, Bologna sandwiches & Mac n cheese!). Very yummy!

5) Sorted donated items and organized them as appropriate. Food items were stacked into the pantry and collection shelves (see super-organized Food shelves beneath and our satisfied faces ๐Ÿ˜€ ) while Clothing were sorted, cleaned, price-tagged and displayed for purchase in the Thrift Shop at the Mercy Franciscan St. John Social Service Center, Over-the-Rhine. ..

6) Senior Nursing Home Visit: One fine early morning, we were given the option to help out at a daycare center for low-income kids from stressful family situations OR to Visit and cheer up senior citizens at an Old People’s Home. As Iโ€™ve done quite a bit with kids in other circles, I chose to visit the Seniors (no pictures because it was super-emotional for me),

Each of these volunteer Opportunities deserves its own blog post but by far, the saddest was the Old Peoples’ Home. Yup, we were supposed to go room to room visiting, distributing mail and cheering up the seniors but three minutes in, I was the one needing cheering up. And a mere ten minutes spent with my first senior had me in the toilet bawling my eyes out. Now don’t get me wrong, this was no rundown poor home, it was a nice home! Walking in the front door, it all looked nice and cozy, the long hardwood corridor floors gleaming like they had just been polished. However, lining the corridor walks were wheelchairs containing residents “out of their rooms for air & excitement”. Most of their heads drooped way down, mainly forward, as they had fallen asleep unexpectedly. The sad sight of all these once-vibrant loving active people now confined to wheelchairs and at the mercy of their minders taught me that โ€œLife is short, youth is fleeting and All is Vanity upon vanityโ€.

I collected the mails bound for the residents assigned to me and proceeded to my first room. It was a double-occupancy room. One side was filled with pictures, hanging on the wall, displayed on the table, stuck everywhere. There was even a vase of flowers. In contrast, the other side of the room was bare and dismal. It was my hostess’. Empty, no pictures, flowers or anything. Just her cheery face (I’ll call her Mrs. S).

As we began chatting and sharing our backgrounds, I learnt that her entire family was dead. Parents, siblings, closest friends, Husband…even her son had been killed in some war. She was just “waiting for her time to go”. I excused myself to use the restroom and did what I very rarely ever do – Cry. I’m not sure why I cried but I can guess at a few reasons… Realizing that this perky lady was once young and beautiful, I cried at the fleeting nature of beauty and Life. Mrs. S still had many memories of the good ol’days yet now couldn’t even leave her room or use the restroom without help. She was full of memories of her happy lively past but her sad present was now the true reality. Her bright active soul was imprisoned within her withered old weak body. I cried with fear that this could be me someday (if I was even lucky enough to afford it). I cried at the realization that loneliness and waiting to die was the bequest of all those droopy heads lining the corridors. I cried to imagine my Mom ever in this position.

Later she peed and I watched silently as an aide changed her diaper and cleaned her bum for her, a tad roughly. To imagine that some day you/I could be so helpless as to need help..


However, We also had fun!!! Follow me to catch my upcoming post on โ€œCincinnati & Northern Kentucky: Fun Outings! โ€œ๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿฝ๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿฝ

In conclusion, when time came to depart Tau House it was 120% bitter for me. It felt like I was leaving my calling to go back to a sinful horrid world. A world I didn’t want. We prayed, shared, had deep conversations and left inspired, knowing we could do much good in the world. We lit candles and sang โ€œGo Light Your Worldโ€ with depth, sincerity and a vow to serve humanity.

Special thanks to our host family at Tau House (pictured below), the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, Chris-Lynn, Sister Janice and my fellow Illini roadtrippers/God’s children.


– Chinweoke

One response to “My first time Volunteering in the USA: OH, KY

  1. Pingback: Cruising in Ohio and Northern Kentucky! | Adventures of an Afri-merican Swthrt·

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