Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cookie Fairy

It was quite a pleasant surprise when this
"thank you" tin arrived. Inside,we discovered
three different varieties of cookies.
To the mysterious person who ordered Mrs. Fields' cookies and kindly had them delivered to our Volunteer Transportation driver gathering in Auburn yesterday, we sincerely thank you for these tasty treats!  We have thoroughly enjoyed them.  Yum!

We had a great time talking about our experiences as volunteer drivers, but it was made even better by this sweet gift.

Monday, April 15, 2013

More than Words: Cultural Growth through Conversation

Meet Jay.  He has lived a very full life.  Prior to retiring as a
Boeing engineer in 1995,he once oversaw the complete rebuilding of a
plane that had landed on its belly in New Delhi.
It’s easy to talk with Jay Surati, a volunteer driver with Senior Services’ Volunteer Transportation program. He is a wealth of knowledge in a variety of topics; he’s full of fascinating stories; and there’s a notable sense of sincerity, warmth, and spirit behind every statement he makes.  Yet, since volunteering for the VT program in 1996, Jay’s discussions with clients have served as much more than just friendly banter.  These important dialogues have fostered meaningful learning and provided for increased cultural understanding.

Jay is from India.  This is just one layer of his multi-faceted identity, but it comes up very quickly in conversation with passengers --  “as soon as they hear my accent!” he notes.  Typical exchanges include the following questions:
• “Where are you from?” Jay says with a sly smile, ““I always make them guess.  Some of them get it right, but I usually joke and tell them I’m from Italy!”
• “Do you know of any good local Indian restaurants?”  Jay knows of several.
• “Do you know this other specific East Indian volunteer driver?(The mathematician?  The retired teacher?  The musician?  The one with the GPS?”). Jay usually can figure out who it is.  In fact, Jay recruited several of the program’s other Indian volunteer drivers!
• “How do you speak English so well?”  Jay laughs at this last one.  He explains that Indian children begin speaking English in school at a very young age.

But then there are the conversations of a more memorable nature.  He was once taken aback by a 90-year-old woman who was eager to hear his opinions about the current prime minister elections of his home country oh-so-far-away.  With so many television viewing options, he was impressed that she had become engrossed in Indian politics and wanted to learn more from him.

Jay also recalls a particularly poignant moment shortly after September 11, 2001.  In the climate of fear following the attacks, he drove a blind client who expressed true concern for him.  She’d heard tales of dark-skinned men experiencing discrimination, and she wanted to help.  Even though she could not see Jay, she was worried that his foreign origins would make him a target.  He was deeply moved by her empathy and compassion. 

Throughout each of these individual interactions, Jay knows that he is representing his cultural group and helping others to “know who we are.”  He says, “Maybe someday, one of these clients will tell her grandchildren, ‘This kind fellow from India gave me a ride.’” 

Jay believes that the program has “made my life very rich.”  His volunteer work with Senior Services (first with Meals and Wheels and then the Volunteer Transportation Program) even inspired him to take on other outreach projects with the East Indian community, including a lunch program in Redmond.  Furthermore, it has taught him about the process of “aging gracefully in American culture.”

Jay is evidence of the give-and-take nature volunteer driving.  Even though he asserts that he “does more taking than giving,” it is clear that it is a mutual, reciprocal process.

Jay labels his work as “building bridges.”   Person by person and word by word, he “talks” his way through differences and misconceptions to a place of powerful cross-cultural respect.

Friday, April 5, 2013

“Catching” Our Shining Stars

Like many of the volunteers,
Shanta G. welcomed me into
her home as I delivered her
award in Seattle. 

Rhonda J. was one of the first
Shining Star recipients that
I visited in South King County.
I know that I sound like a broken record when I say that we love our volunteers! But it’s so very true. We greatly appreciate each and every one of them; we recognize that each volunteer driver has a truly distinct and significant impact on the lives of others. It is for this reason that we do not believe in selecting one specific "standout" volunteer as a "volunteer of the month" or a "volunteer of the year." They are all special and admirable people.

However, with that said, we do believe in acknowledging the longstanding commitment of specific volunteers who have demonstrated steadfast dedication to volunteer driving. We objectively honor those who have offered years’ worth of service to our clients over particular periods of time.

Within the past few months, I’ve had the unique privilege of delivering beautiful Barone Crystal "Shining Star" awards to several volunteers who have driven for our program for the past 15 years. I’ve felt a little bit like the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol as I’ve made appearances at their front doors with these elegant tokens of appreciation.

As I’ve interacted with these long-term volunteers, I’ve been humbled and inspired. They have so many wonderful stories to share from their years of experience, and they still continue to find new lessons to be learned from each ride they give and each client they meet.

Each of our volunteers—new or old-- is a "star" in his/her own way, but our impressive "Shining Stars" serve as great reminders of the constant need for transportation, the continual growth of volunteers, and the self-perpetuating nature of doing good deeds.

Congratulations to them all!


About Me

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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news and updates about Sound Generations’ (formerly Senior Services') Transportation Program. Throughout King County, our inspiring volunteers provide needed mobility to local seniors, supporting them in their efforts to remain independent, healthy, and happy. Please drop by to read more about the unique experiences of our volunteers, clients and staff!
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