One All Hands and Hearts family
June 24, 2019
Volunteers from across the globe pass through All Hands and Hearts bases for days, weeks and months. Many have a transformational experience through the awareness they gain, new experiences they embrace, challenges they overcome and lifelong friendships they build.
We asked six volunteers from St. Thomas and St. John, USVI had about their journeys on the island – here’s what they had to say:
The Taylor Family
(Suzy, 18, Douglas, 60, Suzanne, 52)
From: Salt Lake City, Utah
After three and a half days at program St. John the Taylor family had nothing but positive thoughts to share on their first project.
“… This is just the best lifestyle you could ever have, whether it’s for a short visit or months on end, I see why people end up staying now, because I wish I could stay.” – Suzy
“The key to life is finding your life’s purpose, gifts and talents, and then utilizing them to your benefit and the community, help other people. Life is empty unless you’re reaching out and give people a helping hand, I believe… that’s when the true joy of life shines through…” – Doug
“One thing I really loved here about the familial environment is there are all ages, 18 to 100, and families learn from each other… What blows me away is how many young people are here, because young people in society tend to get a bad rap of being selfish. I see here a lot of selfless next generation, and that makes me really happy, and proud, and hopeful about our future.” – Suzanne
Tim AKA “Ponch”, 51
From: Minneapolis, MN
Ponch joined All Hands and Hearts St. Thomas for six months while on a sabbatical, and liked it so much he went on to Dominica, before returning to St. John.
“The fulfillment that I get out of doing this kind of work is beyond anything I’ve ever done work wise… I just did my 180th muck & gut, and being a part of changing people’s lives, and giving them that hope, and knowing that they can move forward with their life again, is magic, there’s nothing better.”
Giving up your time and comforts to help people you don’t know can be difficult, but the rewards are far greater. Ponch shares why he thinks volunteering is important with a great analogy of the perspective gained.
“… To extract yourself from your everyday life, and give yourself a break, and see it from a different angle… every astronaut that’s come back says seeing the earth from outer space changes their life forever, it’s kind of a microcosm of that.”
From: Frankfurt, Germany
Though it’s his first time volunteering with All Hand and Hearts, Dana has been in St. John for two and a half months. Thanks to his dual citizenship he plans to stay for a total of six.
“It’s a unique experience, and you have to experience it yourselves to really get it… The work is definitely fun. Classic waking up in the morning and not feeling like ‘ehh I don’t really want to wake up now, I don’t want to do stuff.’…it doesn’t really happen here. You get excited. I like to experience the experiences.”
From: Las Vegas, Nevada
Maranda’s first program in St. Thomas taught her great life lessons while she spent two months with us. The friendship she built with one of the homeowners was an integral part of that experience.
“… It’s hard to put in words what it’s like exactly, but my life just completely flipped so I’m really grateful for that…I’ve learned a lot about who I am as a person… where I’m from for people my age, it’s all about you want a nice fancy car, and you want to have an expensive watch, and things like that, and when you come from living around that, you think you need those things to make you happy, but it’s like no, no you don’t, you can just come here and put up some trim dude, and talk to a homeowner for ten minutes, and you’re going to be happy, let me tell you! All of that outweighs anything I could have ever expected having this to honestly be. Yeah, it has changed me, a lot.”
From: Paris, France
Program St. John was Morgane’s first program and she stayed for two and a half months her first trip, returning recently to help close it out. In her time with us she learned both the English language and how to lead a response site.
“We’re born somewhere, and just by chance we are born somewhere, so I think it’s very important if you want to understand the world, to discover the world, and meet new people.”
From: Reno, Nevada
Project St. Thomas was Amy’s first program. After completing her initial stay she put her personal chef business on hold and become the base chef, ultimately staying on program over a year. She attributes her commitment to a life-changing day in the field.
“I just remember there was a moment going up the stairs, where I thought I was going to die, I felt like I was dying, I thought my body was shutting down, and then I had this very clear voice in my head, clear as day say, ‘this isn’t what dying feels like, this is what living feels like.’ That was it! That was living, because I wasn’t living before, I was dying before, I was miserable, and depressed, and that was what dying felt like…”
Amy was on her own journey of personal recovery prior to finding us; with a few years sober and healthy, her enthusiasm for life has become infectious.
“If you’re open to life, life can be just this crazy amazing whirlwind that takes you on an adventure…How do you know that the life you’re living is even the best one for you if you haven’t seen what else is out there.”
A couple weeks in the USVI and mainland life can seem as distant as the moon, a piece of paradise with beauty around every corner. After a full day under the carribbean sun, with salty hair and sandy toes, the All Hands and Hearts family winds down their day with conversations under a sky full of stars.
Story and Photography by Sarah Capobianco for All Hands and Hearts