Give Now

Gratitude: Why I Continue to Give

By: Phylene Wiggins

I believe giving back is part of my DNA as a human being. It’s what being in a community is all about—depositing my time, talent and treasure in places where my passion meets the need. Contributing expands my heart and mind in ways I never imagined. I’ve met interesting people, learned new skills, gained knowledge and insight that have helped inform my work and further my connections.

As a resident of Carpinteria, my first volunteer engagement in my hometown was serving as an after-school tutor at the Carpinteria Camper Park. It seemed like a great place to start. Growing up, both my parents were teachers, so I figured I knew a thing or two about school and learning. I also had a passion for empowering others to succeed on their own terms. That is why I offered to volunteer for a project of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, the Youth Education and Enhancement Program (YEEP), which was available for students from Grade K through 8. Through this program, students receive individual, onsite support with their homework and academics largely provided by community volunteers.

The living conditions at Camper Park were difficult. The students lived with their families in small, aging travel trailers in a dilapidated trailer park with communal bathrooms and activity areas. Most of the parents were monolingual Spanish speakers who worked in the local flower industry. The long working hours and language barriers prevented parents from providing the educational support their children needed to succeed in school. While spending time with these students, I heard stories of the challenges faced by immigrant families and saw what it meant to live in the United States, while also maintaining deep connections to Mexico. I came to understand the stigma of living in a rough neighborhood and the challenges of getting educated with minimal support. I learned to appreciate the camaraderie of what happens when a group of people share a common experience. Understanding the lived experiences of this community gave me a deep respect for the parents who were striving to provide their kids with a better life. And, above all, it created in me a desire to support these kids who would be future members of the community. For a full year, I would leave work an hour early to spend time with “my girls.” We worked on subjects like math, English, spelling and science. We talked about academic and personal situations. We celebrated holidays and birthdays and enjoyed sharing meals together. The consistency of weekly interaction created a strong bond between us.

Today, the word that comes to mind is gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to help kids realize their potential through the daily discipline of homework and learning. One of the most rewarding experiences is to cross paths with those whom I tutored and hear that they are now in college, preparing to bring their skills back to the community.

These experiences have given me a desire to keep giving. Giving pays it forward. The returns on sharing go on long after the experience is over. Sowing the seeds of engagement today can only help us achieve greater outcomes for the future.

Phylene Wiggins is a Senior Director of Community Investments and leads the Community Caregiving Initiative at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
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