A VOLUNTEER PERSPECTIVE
By Liz Courselle
The first time I met Natalie, in late 2000, she was just a little dot of a girl with big, solemn brown eyes. A group of Tony’s Treehouse volunteers had gathered outside the home she shared with her mother and 5 siblings. Our intention that weekend was to help the family spruce up their home. The goal was to reach out and tame some of the chaos that had settled in as a function of depression. My first thought upon arrival was “poor kids, they must think we’re some invading army of do-gooders”.
Becky calmly gave each of us the jobs she felt we were best suited for. Not an easy task when your volunteer staff has an age range from little kids to seniors! I remember feeling awkward and uncomfortable with the idea of going through someone’s home, and needed more than a nudge or two from Becky before I was ready to settle into a steady “work” mode. At that time I was still pretty cynical about this whole “helping people” thing. I didn’t believe back then that lending a helping hand would result long term change. I did the work simply because I love my friend Becky, and she said to do it.
We all worked hard that weekend, the volunteers and this family of 5 were pulled together with a common goal. What seemed initially to be a huge task was whittled away, and fatigue soothed with laughter and liberal amounts of pizza. By the time we finished Natalie and her siblings were comfortable with us being there and their quietness dissolved into play and giggles. They certainly seemed to enjoy the ‘new’ look of the home, which was wonderful to see. I felt like much less of an invader, and began to enjoy this “helping” thing. Of course, still a confirmed cynic, I thought the “new look” of the place wouldn’t last and I told Becky it was a temporary fix. Wise woman that she is, she proved me wrong.
She kept this family within the Treehouse “fold”, and continued to do her unconditional love magic.
When Sue partnered with Becky and Tony’s Treehouse, she added her own exuberant influence and encouragement. Becky and Sue kept things going, and graciously met whatever needs they could as they presented themselves. They were also able to “make it happen”, no matter if money was low, donations scant, all while juggling busy work schedules in addition to running a Non-Profit. Many times it was just about being present and being that “rock” of stability that children need when their world at home is in chaos.
Natalie and her siblings were welcome to stop by Becky and Sue’s after school to “hang out”, and enjoy words of encouragement. It was wonderful to see how true caring, friendship, a school backpack, and some snacks could affect the lives of the kids in such a positive way.
Recently, I was lucky enough to speak with Natalie. She is now an adult, a student, married, with her own family. She is an articulate, intelligent young woman, and it was through her that I learned the importance of those seemly small acts of love & influence.
Natalie vividly recalls that first “tidy up” day. She said she had a range of emotions, embarrassment, excitement, hope, and happiness. What I learned was that she and her siblings were so happy with their home after the volunteers left that they resolved to maintain it, all by themselves if need be. Although they were young, they teamed up to clean, do laundry, and chores. Sometimes they even skipped school to stay home and clean the house.
Natalie told me about how special it was to be able to pop over to Becky & Sue’s for dill pickles and Pepsi after school. Of feeling like their house was something of a sanctuary. A slice of the calm, orderly home environment that she craved. She told me that their support was instrumental in getting her through those rough high school years when peer pressure can be so torturous. She told me their caring attention influenced her in wonderfully positive ways.
As a young married woman, Natalie lived for a time in an area of high density housing where families were often affected by social, emotional and economic struggles. It was there she met children facing the same type of challenges she dealt with growing up. She did not shy away from those kids. She embraced their needs, offering them sandwiches, caring attention and the sanctuary of her home. Although she has moved away from the area now, and has children of her own, she still keeps in touch with those kids, checking in with them and some of their parents too. She has encouraged them, influenced them and served her community in an invaluable way.
What Becky & Sue, and Tony’s Treehouse did for Natalie as she was growing up, and the way Natalie then continued to be a positive light in the world, is the reason we roll up our sleeves and do what we do. It is why we ask for donations, contributions, and volunteer hours. It is the reason every dollar gathered makes a difference in both a person’s momentary need, but less obviously, and much more importantly, in their life’s journey. I can honestly see, in just this one lovely young woman, why we need to toss those pebbles of love and care into the pond. They don’t just sink to the bottom unheeded, they continue to cast ripples outward, wide enough to embrace and influence others in a positive way. To me this is more than enough ‘interest’ on a dollar spent, it is a loving investment in the future!
A note from Becky:
A SPECIAL THANKS to Doug and Margie Burt of Mission Viejo, for introducing Natalie and her family to Tony’s Treehouse. Doug and Margie (pictured below) built a loving foundation with this entire family and I’m so very grateful you asked me to be a part of the Joy! Yes, it takes a Village, and what a beautiful Village it is! Hugs to the entire Burt Family for their 19 years of Treehouse support!