“The family that volunteers together, stays together.”
Having the usual weekend dinner with your family is quite typical these days, and we get that a lot in social media. Sure, what more can be worth sharing than the quality time you spend with your family, right?
But what if I tell you about a family that doesn’t only spend time together on weekends, but also does volunteer work together? As a volunteer myself, I cannot help but share the inside story of how a family of four has made time volunteering in the prison ministry for 5 years now.
I can still remember the first time I met Ate Tina and Kuya Rod during one of our preparatory meetings for the next formation session of the Philippine Jesuits’ Prison Services (PJPS) prison ministry. Ate Tina greeted all of us with a wide grin while handing over a box of pastillas for everyone to share, while Kuya Rod was with his laptop, carefully noting the minutes of the meeting. I found it very interesting how a couple was able to faithfully commit a portion of their time in this kind of ministry, let alone the fact that they encourage their two boys to join them, Elijah (13) and Nathan (14), during the session proper every second Sunday of the month.
When asked how their volunteering came about, Ate Tina answered: “I think it started when we were in college at De La Salle University. We were a part of a Catholic charismatic group and one of the visions of that group is to go to other schools and institutions to promote spiritual formation and growth. This is the time we started to volunteer. And even when we started a family where you become busy with taking care of the kids, the heart and the passion of volunteering was always there.”
Although I have thoughts of my own with regard to choosing the prison ministry, I still opted to ask the couple why they chose PJPS among many other volunteering platforms. They said that they have already tried doing different outreach venues such as orphanage, home for the aged, the streets, as well as the parish. These nourished them for a while but did not last long enough to become a commitment. It was when their long-time friend Fr. Jhaw became the executive director of Philippine Jesuit Prison Services (PJPS) that they finally found their calling for service. They stayed in the prison ministry because of its holistic approach in helping prisoners. The PJPS provides various assistance to the prisoners in Muntinlupa penitentiary. They provide counseling to both the prisoners and their wives as well as scholarship grants and allowances to their children. A values formation session is being done every Sunday of the month, for each division: grade school, high school, and college. It is scheduled in the third, second, and first Sundays respectively.
The couple admits that it takes them much effort in making time for the volunteering commitment especially since they also have other matters to attend to, both at work and in the family. For them, it has always been about being able to balance everything, considering their own schedules and the kids’ activities. Kuya Rod adds: “Discussions about finances aren’t complete if the outreach and giving part aren’t decided on.”
For those who are still contemplating to volunteer, the couple has an unsolicited advice: “From a practical side, volunteering is the best leadership training anyone can ever get. It’s free, you are forced to be creative, you are tasked to work with different types of people, and it’s a life skill that will never leave you.
“But from a Christian perspective, volunteering is really a response to a call. Revelations says Jesus is knocking at our doors. Our lives and our actions are our response to His knocking. We have been blessed with so much and we are sharing the blessings He has given. So our advice is start giving and start sharing your time, talent, and skills and be prepared to receive more than you are giving. He is that generous!”
Not only do they have quality time together helping other families, they also teach good values to their children during the process. The couple shared one experience about an old man they saw trying to cross the street as they were in the car, on their way for dinner. The old man could barely walk. Everyone in the car was so bothered but then they continued to drive until Nate spoke up and said, “Mommy, I think we should go back and help him.” So even if they were already far from where they saw the old man, Kuya Rod turned back and they found him almost at the same spot where they first saw him. They learned that he used to live in Bohol and he was displaced from there because of typhoon Yolanda. His son just died and he went to Manila to ask PCSO for burial assistance. However, since he doesn’t have money left, he would then have to walk his way to Laguna. The Velezes took the old man in their car and the two boys assisted him until he boarded the right Laguna bus. The experience became memorable to Ate Tina because she learned one simple thing from his son and that is to always be ready to act and serve whenever you are called to. This experience also teaches us that inculcating good values to our children at an early age will eventually mold them to become morally upright and responsible citizens in the future.
When asked how it’s like to volunteer with their family, Elijah said that it feels better and more meaningful rather than volunteering alone. I also asked Nate about his key takeaway in his volunteering experiences and he briefly replied, “Count your blessings. Appreciate what you have.” The brothers said that there are two things they like most about volunteering and that is seeing the smiles of the people that they help and learning a lot from the experience.
Witnessing this family grow more in service of a ministry they believe in is a rare opportunity. I can only imagine how our world can be so much of a meaningful place to be, if we have more families like the Velezes. How about skipping your routinary weekend dinner and invite your homies to one of the volunteer opportunities in the iVolunteer website? You’ll never know what we have in store for you on a weekend!
by: Jhala Grace Salas, iVolunteer Philippines