"Giving Back" by Danielle Lithwick, Hopewell Self-Help Group Facilitator

Since I have been a volunteer at Hopewell I have always felt appreciated and supported by the staff for my efforts.  I often hear “Hopewell would not be what it is without its volunteers”.  In my head I would think to respond by saying “Hopewell would not be what it is without everyone involved!” Though I am always grateful for being acknowledged for giving back, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge both the staff and the clients of Hopewell for all the ways in which they give back as well.
            The staff at Hopewell is a hardworking group of individuals, dedicated and passionate about educating and supporting the sufferers in the eating disorder community. Over the years as a volunteer, I have always felt welcome when I visit them, always greeted with a warm smile no matter how stressful their day has been. Throughout my various roles as a volunteer- mentor, yoga teacher, and now a facilitator- I could always count on them to answer my many questions, to get constructive feedback, and to debrief if necessary. They have taken the time to make sure I have felt comfortable with my volunteer tasks and through their nurturing and empathetic qualities, they have been quick to boost my confidence at times when I felt I had made a mistake or failed somehow. The guidance and learning I have received from the staff has been invaluable.
            Being a co-facilitator and facilitator for the past three Self-Help groups has been one of the most fulfilling experiences for me at Hopewell so far. Admittedly it has been a steep learning curve and challenging at times, but the rewards of leading such a group are priceless. Through the strength, courage, and honesty that is demonstrated by the group members each week, I am always left humbled, moved, and grateful for being able to bear witness to each individual’s journey. I try to offer hope and guidance as a facilitator, yet I feel the real work is accomplished by the participants themselves. For example, I have seen and heard group participants express their relief in knowing they are not alone in their suffering, and a deep appreciation for having a safe space to express themselves freely and openly. What the participants may not realize is that they are also giving back. Simply by showing up each week and being present, they are demonstrating support for the others. When a participant shares their deepest vulnerabilities, they are letting everyone know that they trust the group and are reaching out. When another participant expresses compassion and acceptance towards the vulnerable, they are saying “You are not alone. We are here for you.” In this sense, every participant contributes to the effectiveness of the group, whether by listening, sharing, or consoling. The intention of joining the group may at first seem only to help oneself, yet it becomes clear early on that the benefits gained are through the various ways that one gives back to their peers. Through helping themselves, participants are helping others. Now that is a true gift.
            So you see, it is not only volunteers who give back. Everyone involved at Hopewell- staff, volunteers, and clients – gives back. Actually, I believe it is more like a continuous upward-turning spiral of giving and receiving, where every new cycle represents another layer of overall growth and increased benefits for all. The more we give, the more we receive. The more we receive, the more we give. Giving and receiving from all, help weave together the collaborative, interconnected, and strong web of support that is Hopewell. In other words, Hopewell is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, as a volunteer I am just one of the many individuals that have contributed and benefited from a small part of the greater giving-back and receiving process.    
            I am deeply indebted to the Hopewell staff and clients for everything they have given me as I have described above. Most importantly I am most grateful for the inspiration that fills me every time I connect with someone in the Hopewell community, whether staff, client, or another volunteer. For that reason, my work as a volunteer does not feel like work. To be involved with an organization that is founded on the notion of giving-back is a privilege. For all the many gifts I receive from Hopewell, it is easy to give a little gift of volunteering back.

            I look forward to the many more gifts I will receive and share as a volunteer at Hopewell.