|Oscar Romero, child of God|
Setting time aside once a month to give back to one’s community where it is needed is an exercise in humility and gratitude which is not forgotten by one’s heart and mind.
- Does serving one’s community strengthen our cognitive skills, such as our executive function abilities?
- Is community service therapeutic for one’s heart of hears?
2. How can parents organically do this with their family?
My late-fathers congregation does something special once a month in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. At sundown they go and feed people who are down and out. Some are local, some are from the U.S. mainland, mostly all are homeless, heroin drug addicts and the down and out that roam the cobble-stone streets of the city show up.
Built over five hundred years ago, the walled-in and fortified city holds the seat of the islands government and preeminence as the epicenter of the island’s culture. The youth skateboard area is not far in ‘Ballaja,’ by the fort ‘El Morro, which juts out at the entrance of the bay, Bahia San Juan. The fort was set up by the Spanish and was very successful in warding off unwanted guests to the city, even guarding the city from marauding pirates ships.
Hailing from the upscale Guaynabo suburb (within the San Juan Metro area), just 15 minutes away from ‘el Viejo San Juan,’ first rendezvous at their church, gather the food and materials, then move on to the old city as a caravan. Quite promptly, they set up a buffet of food on large tables forming a chain of volunteers fifteen yards long and commence serving. Everyone works.
Pastor Bob and the elders bring the tables while the wives, young men, ladies and children help with the food and drinks. It is quite an experience. A sense of calm comes into the air. Like clockwork, at sundown a line begins to form. I went with my Dad once, and got to stand next to him and serve the soda into the plastic cups. I think Dad was serving the lasagna. The homeless looked like they desperately needed a bath and a change of clothes. Lots of talkers. All very chatty and gracious.
In retrospect, standing in line in service to those less fortunate next to my late-aged father is a golden memory. I still see him in the corner of my eye and am thankful to have had the opportunity to place myself at the feet of the homeless and downtrodden with him. Dad had asked me to come and had said that it would be good for me. He meant it would be good for my heart and mind. He had been telling me about how he fed the poor for a few years now. It was amazing for me to here my Dad say these things to me. A former 101st Airborne Ranger, ‘Screaming Eagle,’ U.S. Marine (Korea), global hotelier and all-around ironman, he re-made himself over and over again. He simply kept moving and adapting with the times, yet always grounded in family and service to the community. Throughout my childhood, Dad would take my sisters and I and model different ways to serve the community. Sometimes it was just a smile and a kind word. Always with a ready smile and a knack for making people laugh, my father lowered himself as much as he could and began to feed the homeless in his eighties. As I look back, I see the impact that his legacy of service has imprinted on me, with his final act home running all the pieces together.. and that is to love each other as God loves us.
Staying fluid and in seeking to be in service to each other propels one to constantly shift and adapt to each situation and that is mental flexibility, a cognitive (executive function) life skill and so it is that the heart and mind can get toned in looking to be a servant to one’s community.