Beyond Your Years with Luis Martinez

Embracing Life By Volunteering

You may have heard the expression, “I’m just giving back to our community.” What does that phrase mean to you? Is there someone you know who has said that? Have you said that yourself? During National Volunteer Week April 10-16, we recognize and celebrate volunteers and their service. National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing, and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage with their communities. Quoting from a national volunteer organization, Points of Light: “National Volunteer Week is about taking action and encouraging individuals and their respective communities to be at the center of social change – discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to make a difference.”

For me, volunteering has been a significant part of my life for decades. When I was in college, my girlfriend (who was then a nursing student and is now my wife) and I volunteered in the emergency room at Wilmington Medical Center in Delaware. We learned a lot about some grim aspects of life by the illnesses and injuries that the patients brought to the ER. It certainly gave us, at an early age, perspective on what is really important in life and what is merely trivial. The best part is that upon graduation we were both offered jobs at that hospital because they had already seen us at work. 

As we grew and matured our volunteer efforts evolved. As a young married couple but BC (before children), I was working as a counselor in Wilmington Public Schools. I took notice of three young Puerto Rican boys; Albert, Nelson and Jose, who were the three youngest of 10 siblings of a poor family. I kept an eye out for them in the elementary school. From time to time, if one of them did not show up at school I would walk to their house (a second floor walk-up in a rough neighborhood), knock on the door, speak to their elderly parents (who were barefoot with the heater turned up to 80F), get the boy(s) out of bed and walk them to school.


Luis with one of the boys he helped, circa 1975.

On the weekends, I would drive to their house, put them in my car and take them out of the city to parks in the suburbs, or to the movies, or out for a hamburger and fries. In the winter I would take them sledding on the hills near my house. Someone then told me about the Big Brother program, so I joined and then they helped me with activities. The Big Brother program said I was different because I brought ‘my own boys,’ three of them, instead of having one assigned to me.

As the years progressed and we had three children our volunteer efforts (time, talent, and treasure) focused mostly on church activities in Pennsylvania and then New York. Wanting to participate in the religious upbringing of our own kids, we taught Bible classes for adults and children. We also led many committees for different churches as we moved around communities.

In addition, the type of work we did made our talents attractive to not-for-profit  organizations like the United Way (of Allentown, PA) and Hispanic American Organization (Allentown). More recently, in the Rochester area I served three terms (six years) on the Board of the YMCA (Pittsford) and am now serving on the Board of the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI Rochester). Who knows what’s next?

All of this, my wife and I are happy to say, has rubbed off on our children. Our daughter has done mission work in Malawi, Haiti, and Ecuador/Galapagos Islands. Now with children of her own she can’t travel, so she has a young lady living in her home who is being rehabilitated from the sex trade. Our son works with the ARC of Monroe full time, volunteers many hours in his church, and has done two missions in Haiti.

Points of Light informs us that: “National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially each year, with thousands of volunteer projects and recognition events scheduled throughout the week.” 

What is your story of volunteering? As you choose an opportunity to volunteer, what do you want your story to say?

Luis Martinez is a guest blogger for St. John’s. He is an active senior that likes to observe and write about how people work at their careers, guide their businesses, strengthen their families, stay physically fit and mentally sharp, and race their sports cars. Luis habla español. Follow Luis on Twitter @BeyondYourYears, or email

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