By Amanda Hoffman
“A little karma goes a long way” is the volunteer motto of Laurie Guay, who along with her son, Graham, is the star of this month’s Volunteer Spotlight.
Laurie and Graham certainly have more than a little karma. After joining HandsOn Broward over a year ago, they have participated in all sorts of volunteer projects, from planting trees to helping soldiers. “We are passionate about anything that helps the Earth, people and animals so there is always a great activity for us to participate in. Graham typically wants to plant something and talk to other kids. I love working with people and animals. We will always jump at the opportunity to help a veteran because we are so grateful to our troops for their service and sacrifice.”
The mother-son volunteer team had been considering volunteering for a while, but it wasn’t until last Veteran’s Day when they actually took the steps towards getting involved.
“My brother is a veteran and served a couple of tours in Afghanistan,” says Laurie. “Every year we call him on Veteran’s Day and we thank him for his service. Last year, Graham’s class had a big lesson on the meaning of Veteran’s Day and it really struck a chord in him. He came home that day and told me he wanted to do more than just thank his uncle–he wanted to honor him somehow. We decided to adopt a troop of soldiers in Afghanistan through Any Soldier and Graham used his allowance to purchase the supplies they had requested on the website. He felt so great afterwards that I suggested volunteering locally and he agreed to give it a try. We logged onto the HandsOn Broward website and signed up for our first project that day. We started attending the Kids Club and we were hooked!”
Soon after, Laurie could see the visible impact volunteering had on her son. “In January we volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House where we helped make cupcakes and decorated them with some of the patients. Graham is very social and spent time talking to the children and watching movies. He didn’t want to leave. I will never forget the conversation we had on the way home that night. He told me that he is so glad to have a mom like me who cares about helping other people and who is teaching him how to help people too because when he gets older he wants to open an organization that helps sick kids get the help they need because all kids deserve to feel safe and loved. It was the first time Graham had ever talked about what he wants to do when he grows up and it really showed me that he is getting it–he is understanding the full impact volunteering can have on your life.”
Volunteering together has helped their relationship, too. “[Working on projects together] has allowed us to spend more quality time together doing activities we have never tried before.”
For Laurie, giving back your time and energy to the community has incredible benefits. For one, it is a great morale booster. “When you walk away from a project knowing you did a great job and realizing the impact that the project will have on others, it fills you with a sense of pride and really gives you a satisfaction like nothing else does”
Volunteering also gives children important life skills. “Volunteering with kids is very important because it teaches them at a young age to be grateful and compassionate. Graham is learning how to work in a team, interact with new people and help coordinate a task to accomplish a shared goal. I see the teen project leaders learning valuable project management and leadership skills that will only help them succeed as they get older.”
In Laurie’s words: “Everyone wins with volunteering and, honestly, you never know when you may end up needing a little help yourself.”
Though Laurie and Graham still consider themselves to be new volunteers, they have some advice for those who are hesitant about volunteering. “Talk to other volunteers and ask them about projects they have worked on and enjoyed. Get your family involved because it will open to the doors to communication with your kids and teach you both life lessons you will never forget. And maybe, most importantly, when you see an even newer volunteer who looks a little lost, reach out to them. Introduce yourself. Tell them about the great experiences you have had so far and how volunteering makes you feel. I’ve met and been inspired by some great people who have told me their stories and shared what volunteering has done for their family. Volunteering has changed our lives for the better and it will change yours too. Enjoy the ride!”