Look For the Helpers. You Will Always Find People who are Helping
Over the years, I’ve come back to this quote from my childhood pal, Mr. Rogers (or Fred, if you were on a first name basis like I was). Particularly since becoming a mother, I’ve looked to these words as a reminder of the good in the world.
The parade of bombings, mass shootings, political shouting matches, and threats to the moral fabric of our country has been relentless, constantly talking over the gentler messages of positivity trying to break through the noise and terror. Rather than giving in to assaulting waves of fear that rise and fall in today’s world, I’ve tried to retrain my focus on where hope lives. Look for the helpers.
I worry about my children’s futures and the world they are inheriting. I want my kids’ go-to response in challenging times to be focusing on the helpers. Even more so, I want them to be the helpers.
Then it dawned on me. If my husband’s and my wish for our children is for them to be the helpers, then it is our responsibility to fill that role right now. And although they are still very young (James is 2.5 yrs and Clara is 1 yr), why not start now in getting them involved in our community? Kids are innately drawn to helping. In our house, James is adamant about jumping in when it’s time to vacuum, wash dishes, or switch and fold the laundry. Watching him redistribute my swept dust bunny piles with his kiddie broom, I thought to myself how his instinct to contribute could so easily be focused on volunteer activities helping other people.
So I sat down and started researching public service opportunities in San Diego for toddlers. Nothing. I reached out to a couple of mommy friends to see if they knew of anything and learned that they too had been searching for such opportunities, also finding nothing. Taking matters into our own hands, a friend of mine, Sarah, and I organized a Toys-for-Tots collection at the neighboring fire station a few weeks before Christmas. James picked out a gift to donate and then, along with a couple of toddler pals, ceremoniously donated his pair of Star Wars figurines to the donation box, applauded by doting parents and our firefighter neighbors.
We thought, that felt really good. What else can we do? Who else needs our help?
In the midst of an unusually rainy January, Sarah and I came across a wonderful organization, Alpha Project, who offer a multitude of programs to help end homelessness in San Diego. After learning more about the difficulties facing our homeless neighbors out on the streets of San Diego, many of them families with children, we decided to gather families of volunteers to assemble outreach bags with items to help keep our neighbors dry, clean, and healthy.
Socks, ponchos, shampoo, soap, razors, toothbrushes… all items we take for granted in our house. As our volunteer families gathered and stuffed the bags, we reflected on the challenges facing the thousands of people without homes in San Diego. We discussed the various contributing factors to this dilemma and questioned what else we could do to help. After the gathering, Sarah and I talked about how we had not only collected items to help make a few people’s lives a little bit easier, if only for a short time, we had also raised awareness and had empowered some of our friends and their children to extend a helping hand and maybe even help solve the problem.
Not only were we being helpers – we were mobilizing a collective of increasingly informed, inspired community members.
I’m happy to report that we’ve continued to meet monthly with a growing group of families to serve such San Diego charities as Meals on Wheels, I Love a Clean San Diego, The Butterfly Farm, and Gently Hugged.
We’ve made gifts for hungry seniors, participated in a beach cleanup, learned about the importance of pollinators, and gathered much needed items for low income mothers with newborns.
I watched James, at the tender age of 2, sit with his Daddy to make a card for somebody, who he’s never met, to brighten their day. We looked on carefully as he donned kid-sized garden gloves to pick up cigarette butts from beach sand. We marveled at his face, full of wonder, following newly emerged monarch butterflies. And I was humbled when I noticed his determined brow and chubby little hands, working as a team with his friends to sort baby clothing, books, and blankets.
With every shock of fear and uncertainty we encounter through the news or social media, we can turn to somebody in our community who needs a helping hand and do whatever is in our power to make a change for the better. We can band together and help one another. Expand our village, bring others into it. And look to our children. They are real life superheroes. With their boundless reserves of energy, innate kindness, and minds that are developing at break-neck speed, they are capable of so much more than we may realize.
Contributed by Leigh Eck, working mom and wife, co-founder of Tomorrow’s Heroes Today, San Diego, California
In her life, Leigh has been an artist, an advocate, a collaborator, a producer, and yet always a learner. From the arts to basic science research, she has witnessed time and again humanity’s incredible capacity for discovery and wisdom. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and two young children, where she works in Development and Diversity Outreach for the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego.