This last weekend I volunteered for a CHEITA event! CHEITA stands for Coalition of Hispanics for Excellence in International Technology and Arts. They are a really small non-profit (less than $25,000 per year), but they support the local community by providing scholarships for needy students. I found them through the Volunteer Houston website and worked with them through the HPE Gives program.
When I got to the location, it was empty. I signed up for the Friday night time-slot, so I knew it was up to me and whoever else volunteered to make sure that the festival was ready for the next day. I was surprised to find out that there were only two volunteers! Other than us, there were three hired contractors and 4-5 sponsors. It was insane, but we eventually managed to set up dozens of tents, banners, lights, decorations, security fences, and more.
It was a great experience. Other than the personal fulfillment coming from helping a community, I also got a great workout, learned how to use a scissor lift, and gained some perspective. I got the workout from running all over the place setting up materials (27,000 steps that day!). I got the scissor lift experience from a fellow volunteer while hanging some last minute banners. And finally, I got some perspective from working with convicted felons.
During the five hours that I spend volunteering, I found out that a couple of the contractors had just come out of prison. I was wary at first, but after spending a couple hours with them I realized that they were just happy to be able to work. They weren’t volunteering, they were being paid by an event organizer, but it was obvious to me that they were aiming to earn their keep. Their work ethic and enthusiasm made the entire session much more enjoyable. By the end of the night, I had gained a lot of respect for all of them. When we finished setting everything up, I even drove them home. They were planning to spend two hours walking ! Through my conversations with them, I re-learned how to appreciate where I am today. I had recently been stressing out over how to improve myself, but that night I was able to take a step back to remember that I have a good job with a great company, and am able to afford everything I need. It’s not even that long ago where I was sharing a room in a house of 6-7 people! I still remember what one of the contractor’s said: “Wow, you work for a Fortune 500 company!”
Overall we spent about five hours to get everything set up. I arrived at around 6:30pm, worked until 11:30pm, and didn’t get home until 12:15am. The next day, I attended the festival to see the fruits of our labor. The tacos were not bad!