When Dan decided to volunteer as a driver for Bethany, he didn’t imagine he’d still be driving 12 years later. He also didn’t know the number of lives he would touch, and the lives that would impact him.
Dan had always had the heart of a servant. Over the years, he saw lots of hardship, starting when his twin brother died at the age of 4. As a young adult, he served in the Vietnam war and witnessed the deaths of civilian women and children. “I had bad experiences,” Dan explained, “I wanted to replace them with good experiences.”
He’d asked himself, “What can I do to help?”
Dan felt compelled to help children. When he worked in hospital management, he often visited the pediatric floor to talk with kids who needed company or compassion. Later, he volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
When he first began driving as a Bethany volunteer, his schedule consisted of driving kids to their parent visits or international government consulates. Dan knew how important it was for the kids to feel comfortable with him. “These were sensitive kids,” Dan explained. “They were really hurt, and the last thing I wanted to do was to make it worse.” Many of the kids had been separated from their parents, and many were refugees, new to the country.
Part of his routine was picking up four teenage girls. None of them knew each other, so the rides were quiet and uncomfortable. One morning, Dan offered to turn the radio to their favorite station. A popular hip-hop song, “Stop, Drop, and Lock It,” came on, but Dan hadn’t heard it. He asked the girls about the lyrics. “Are they saying, ‘Hot Pockets?’” he asked. The girls laughed, and the ice was broken. The next time he picked them up, he greeted them with warm Hot Pockets in hand.
The more relaxed his passengers became with him, the more they opened up to him. “They thought of me as a safe zone,” Dan said. “I wasn’t their biological parent. I wasn’t their foster parent. I wasn’t their caseworker. I was just the goofy guy who drove the van.”
Dan also regularly drove two sisters from their foster home to their scheduled visitations with their mom at Bethany. Years later, one of the sisters wrote a letter to Dan. It read: “When I was going to my meetings, I didn’t get along with my mom. Whenever Dan was taking me to see her, I was always a nervous wreck and didn’t want to go. But then Dan would say something funny or tell a joke, and that calmed me down. I’ll never forget that.”
“The reward is those relationships you build,” Dan recalled. “I still stay in touch with some of the kids I used to drive.”
Dan is grateful for the chance to get to know so many great kids. “It changed me. I have a lot more sympathy for other people, what they’ve gone through.”
Your volunteer journey might not last 12 years, but any amount of time you can offer makes a positive impact on the children and families we serve. How can you use your talents and time?