Be the Cause

L.A. Works Day

Several Be the Cause volunteers from Orange County and Los Angeles showed up bright and early on Saturday, June 11 to participate in L.A. Works day, a day of community service throughout 6 different inner-city sites. Thousands started the day off at the California Plaza, where in true L.A.-style we were given a calesthenic workout/warmup before heading off to some of the poorest areas in the city in need of a makeover.

We were assigned to Hollenbeck Middle School in Boyle Heights, where we repainted and refurbished the landscaping of the school. How wonderful it must have been for its students to come to school on Monday morning to see how everything had been transformed — as if little elves had tidied things up and made their campus a much more welcoming environment over the weekend. However, this was not the only school that needed it. Other volunteer teams were bussed off to Ann St Elementary School in Lincoln Heights and Sunshine Elementary School in East Los Angeles. On one hand, it’s unfortunate that these schools — and I’m sure there are several like them, particularly in these areas — are so underfunded that they cannot maintain their facilities. On the other, it’s great that so many volunteers are out there to make up for what’s lacking.

I can’t say that I know from firsthand experience what it’s like to attend a public school in those parts of town. But I do know that it’s good to be able to study somewhere nice, that having a learning environment that’s warm is so much more conducive to learning than some place that looks cold, rigid and worn; a place that is taken care of, and in turn makes me feel like I am being cared for as well. I hope those kids get that feeling too.

Boyle Heights, Lincoln Park and East L.A. are not known for being pretty places, but in fact have a reputation for being poor and gang-infested. The L.A. Works website calls Hollenbeck Middle School a “safe haven for the surrounding communities.” In this case, I think we’d done more than given the school a paintjob. As a community we’d simply gone out to do what everyone should do for their kids: make them feel like they count, give them a space where they can feel nurtured in every aspect of life.

Here’s a link to the official L.A. Works day recap:

Compassion Cell at the Special Olympics in L.A.

Sunday’s Special Olympics games started with the athletes’ recitation of the following: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, then let me be brave in the attempt” — a motto, which according to the speaker for the opening ceremony, was said by gladiators before heading into battle. This set the tone for the day, where athletes of different ages from all over Southern California came to compete in tennis, bocce, track & field, shot put and softball in spite of their mental and physical challenges.

To say that they are “handicapped,” “retarded,” or “special” would immediately connote or evoke some sense of pity, that they are “below normal.” Yet watching them in their elements, playing, surrounded by their friends, family and coaches, I was amazed by their abilities to rise to the challenge of competition, to capitalize on so many months of training. On some level they were also competing against themselves. Part of the mission of the Special Olympics Southern California is to “give [athletes] continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.” In short, these games put these athletes at the top of the world, where they are treated as winners, and rightfully so. They are not winners because they received medals, but because they transcended their vulnerableness in front of hundreds of people. They know the value of perseverance, and it showed.

I thought about this notion, and what it means to push our own limits; what makes our potential grow? In a way, like gladiators, these Special Olympics athletes compete for honor by “staying alive” — by finishing the race even though they’re coming in last, by running the race and not letting the braces, the two metal poles clamped to their arms get in the way, by still throwing the ball even though it may not travel very far. For one day, they were made to feel special in a different way, and several Be the Cause volunteers contributed to that. We cheered those athletes on, and rewarded their efforts with a sense of pride, true accomplishment. It was definitely a fun day. Some of us acted as escorts, shaggers, timers and measurers (and had fun with puns). Each volunteer also came away with having accomplished a genuine act of kindness.

The second L.A. Compassion Cell is now over! Just as the Special Olympics athletes push the envelope, so too do we, stretching our capabilities and growing in service.

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