The opportunity to volunteer for Church World Service Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, came about suddenly and unexpectedly. I received a call from a friend asking me if I would like to provide transportation to a family arriving from Guatemala that evening. Immediately, I agreed, realizing that it would be a great opportunity to work on my Spanish.
My friend and I met the weary travelers at the airport. They carried only duffle bags, the only remnants of their life back home. I stared at the United Nations Migration tags on the bag handles, and just as suddenly as I had agreed to help that evening, it dawned on me that this experience would give me so much more than just an opportunity to speak Spanish.
Flash forward one week and I found myself not only an official member of the family’s welcome team, but also the leader of a committee within the team. Sending out team emails, organizing outings and coordinating schedules became a routine part of my day. While I hadn’t set out with the intention of doing anything more than helping out my new neighbors and improving upon my Duolingo-learned Spanish, I found myself building leadership skills that could actually be used on my resume.
But volunteering as a welcome team member has been so much more than building skills. I’ve made a connection with one of the most warm, kind and patient families I’ve ever met. We’ve taken selfies in front of the Capitol building, waited in lines at state agencies, and laughed at jokes that have transcended our language barrier. I’ve seen my hometown through fresh eyes. And I’ve met a whole new group of like-minded people within our team of volunteers.
This family’s courage for moving to a new country in the hopes of a better life, while simultaneously giving up so much control over their lives to an unfamiliar system and unfamiliar people, is inspiring. They have faced each day in Pennsylvania with optimism and curiosity. They are forever gracious while our team figures out the best methods of communication. They are brave in the face of so many obstacles. Helping them get settled here in Pennsylvania has given me a newfound source of joy, inspiration and community. I am so grateful that I received that surprise call one random day in May.
Rachel Landis is a volunteer with CWS Harrisburg.