Deborah Richardson: Super Volunteer
How long have you been volunteering with WTAP?
I have been volunteering with WTAP for 2 years. I didn’t know anything about WTAP until my son, Aaron, age 19 at the time, expressed an interest in doing some volunteer work with refugees due to experiences he had while traveling abroad during his previous semester of college. He had the opportunity to be a part of Semester At Sea which is basically a floating classroom with professors from all over the world and a variety of class offerings. Aaron had traveled to numerous countries including India, Burma, Ghana, South Africa, Vietnam and Morocco. Through this program, he was exposed to an international perspective that ignited an interest in him to pursue a career with a humanitarian focus. When he came home for his summer break we discovered WTAP and asked if I wanted to do this with him. We started with deliveries and we were both amazed at how much meeting each of the families and learning their stories touched our hearts. We continued over the summer and when he returned to school, I continued volunteering. I remained involved in some deliveries but began working with the Clothes Closet and now I have incorporated Home Visits. I really love it.
Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working with WTAP?
The thing that strikes me the most when I meet the refugee families is how resilient and strong they all are. It keeps me grounded and reminds me that while I might think I have problems or things to worry about, I don’t have the first clue about the struggles, hardships and life-threatening situations each of these families has lived through and many of them for years on end. Being a mom, I tend to be very empathetic to the mother in the family and her desire to protect her family and hold them together as best she can. Every time I have the opportunity to meet refugees, I walk away with ten times more than I contributed. I am also very impressed with the volunteers that come back time after time and move heavy furniture to second and third floor apartments in extreme heat! Now that’s impressive and dedicated!
Why do you choose to donate your time to WTAP?
The reason I choose to donate time to WTAP is I believe I make a difference in someone’s life in a positive way. When I go into someone’s home and smile, showing caring and concern and take time to listen, you can really see how much impact it has on the families. As I said before, I see families that have horrendous stories to tell. Yet here they are continuing to put one foot in front of the other. That warms my heart so much. And if I can make that journey just a bit easier, more comfortable and let them know somebody cares, it’s all worth it. I’m really the one who benefits the most I think when it comes right down to it. I give just a little bit of time and effort and get so much in return.
Describe an experience you had while volunteering that made you realize you were making a difference.
I could tell so many stories here! Just this past weekend, I had the privilege of delivering items to 3 families I had done the home visits for. This was especially powerful for me because I had met them 10 days earlier, heard their stories, listened to them describe their needs and saw, first-hand, how little they had. One of the families from Cuba literally had basically an empty apartment. They had nothing. So when we delivered a couch, tables, dishes, utensils, book shelves, a TV, desk, chairs, etc. they really thought they had made it to Heaven. They were not able to show their appreciation enough. So to see it all come together and to help these families go from an apartment they take shelter in to a home is remarkable to say the least.
What do you do when you aren’t volunteering ?
When I am not volunteering, I am always first a mom even though both of my children are not living at home. My daughter, Abby, age 25, lives in Taiwan and teaches English. My son, Aaron, whom I credit for getting me started with WTAP, is senior at Concordia University in Portland, OR. So now it’s just my husband and I and our beloved beagle, Jeter. I am also a Registered Dietitian and have a private practice that serves people of all ages who need some sort of nutritional intervention from an eating disorder to diabetes to heart disease or just need to adopt a healthier lifestyle. I enjoy hiking, traveling with my husband and/or family, going to sporting events, photography and I love exploring all types of restaurants and foods so I “drag” my husband along to experience that with me.
What secret powers or talents do you have?
It’s always hard to describe yourself it seems. I would say I have a great deal of compassion for people and that I am very resourceful and able to figure out how to accomplish whatever it is I set out to do. So maybe my motto should be, “If there’s a will there’s a way”? I think these are two important characteristics that help me in volunteering for WTAP. I care about the families and their struggles and definitely want to find a way to help them make their lives just a little easier than before I met them.