Last year, and timed to Giving Tuesday, Strategic Solution Partners announced its commitment to give contractors the chance to give back to society with SSP’s Giving Time initiative. In partnership with Give A Day Global, a San Francisco-based non-profit that connects travelers with single-day volunteer missions, SSP will support up to 10 contractors to travel abroad, make a difference in someone’s life, and achieve the work-life balance that is so important to them.
To kick off the program, Jacqueline Villamil, SSP’s COO, volunteered her time at Huellas de Pan (‘Bread’s Footprints in Spanish), a non-profit organization in Cancun, Mexico, that feeds 80 impoverished children and 35 senior citizens, as well as their dependents. Jacqueline immersed herself in the daily activities by helping feed the children at the soup kitchen, collecting food donations, and even participating in the weekend cultural activities.
We met up with Jacqueline to ask her about her experience.
Your Giving Time mission was just 72 hours. What were you able to experience?
My first introduction to Huellas de Pan was during a Saturday of cultural activity. Here, a group of children gathered to enjoy lunch, do arts and crafts, and celebrate the birthdays of the month. All of the supplies for the day – the food, the birthday cakes and gifts, and the art supplies – had been donated by a generous group of business people in the community. What struck me the most was how well mannered and attentive the children were. They brought their own cups, plates and utensils so as not to create garbage, they waited patiently in line to be fed, letting the small children go first, and they graciously enjoyed their meal, taking no more than two quesadillas each.
On the second day, I offered my assistance at the children’s soup kitchen, where I served food to the children, dried dishes and set the tables for the arrivals which came in three waves throughout the day. I was impressed with the harmony, order, and dignity of everyone involved. Upon arrival, the children cleaned their hands with sanitizer gel, they sat and played in an orderly fashion with their tablemates as they waited patiently to be served, and prior to eating, they prayed. Two girls leading the prayer read from one of the posters in the cafeteria. Once they finished their lunch, the children picked up their plates and took them to the dishwasher. No one asked for seconds, and some even asked to be served less.
On the third day, I rode along in the van that goes to four hotels to pick up the food that is donated to the senior citizen soup kitchen daily. I helped load and unload the food, which is an exhausting job that is done every day by Jorge, director of Huellas de Pan.
You were able to meet many people, from the founder, the chefs who donated food, the driver of the van, to volunteer workers from the soup kitchen. Who inspired you most?
María Elena, the President and Founder of Huellas de Pan is the heart and soul of the organization, which she started 10 years ago. Her mission is to give children the opportunity to have a better life than the one they were born into. She is firm: To stay in the program and to go on field trips, the children must maintain good grades. This way, she ensures the children and their parents stay focused on education. While a hearty meal is good for a day, education will ensure every child goes on to live a better life.
María Elena is also a guardian angel for the elderly. Typically left to fend for themselves because they can no longer contribute financially to the family unit, and therefore become a burden to an already difficult situation, they don’t have anyone else who can help them. In many cases, these seniors also take care of their grandchildren. María Elena works tirelessly to raise enough money to keep the program alive. Her passion, her compassion and her drive are truly contagious!
Huellas de Pan depends on volunteers. What type of people help on a daily basis?
Some people have a close, personal tie to the organization: Aurora, one of the volunteers in the children’s soup kitchen, has been working at Huellas de Pan for the past four years, and her grandchildren are in the program. She works every day from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. cooking the children’s lunches and cleaning up after them.
Others are inspired to support, and grow in the process. This is the case of Angel, who helps with collecting the food from the hotels. He did not pass his exam to get into high school and won’t be able to go return to school until August. Instead of staying home to play video games, he spends his mornings helping Jorge collect the food before heading home to study in the afternoon.
Do you think you made an impact with your Giving Time experience?
Absolutely. On an emotional level, I was able to speak with a number of young girls and women. I hope to have inspired them to aim high in life and build on their enthusiasm and their desire to dream. With education and a network of support, it is possible for women to be independent, have a career and able to give back to the community.
Also, SSP made a financial contribution to fix the van they use for collecting the food. It had been broken down for a week because they couldn’t afford the repairs, meaning they weren’t able to feed the senior citizens during that time. Our donation went towards fixing the van so they could collect the food donations so vital to the operation of the senior citizens soup kitchen. It was fantastic to see how just one contribution could have such an immediate impact on so many lives.
What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
While life is long, those 72 hours help me put much of my life into perspective. For those of us who are fortunate to have more, it is a good reminder that a simple life can be just as, or even more, fulfilling when you live in gratitude.
About Giving Time
In a recent study, SSP discovered that 33% of contractors value their free time as the leading benefit to their work above compensation; and 31% valued the opportunity to travel. In response, SSP partnered with Give A Day Global, a San Francisco-based non-profit that connects travelers with single-day volunteer missions to create the industry-first “Giving Time” initiative. In 2019, SSP will be selecting 10 contractors to experience the Giving Time initiative firsthand. The opportunity includes a three-day trip to volunteer anywhere in Latin America that Give A Day Global has a partnering charitable organization, a donation to the charitable organizations that are selected, and a video montage of each experience created by UrLife Media, that the contractors can share on their social platforms to help spread the word about the importance of giving back.
If you are an SSP contractor interested in applying to be part of the program, please go to this link to fill out the application and check out the Give A Day Global website for the list of opportunities available.