“What can love do?” It’s a bold question asked by the organizers of 1DayLA, a week-long initiative in Los Angeles (LA) that helps the city rally around beautification projects, back to school events, free medical clinics, homeless assistance, and aid distribution. Recently, I used my Cisco volunteer hours (we get 40 each year to volunteer in ways we’re most passionate) to uncover the answer and find out what love could do.
This isn’t just any love, either. But the kind of love that stretches across the lines that divide us – a love with no limits. Their mission statement proclaims, “We believe that love could change a city, inspire a nation and shift the national conversation from what divides us to what brings us together.”
This vision spoke to me. The last few years have been perhaps the most divisive in modern history. I’ve watched people around me bark competing viewpoints online seeming to forget that it’s not just views they are criticizing, but people. Simultaneously, we’ve had to deal with the devastation of disease. We cannot deny that this darkness seems to be growing.
And so, this idea of somehow bringing light into darkness appealed to me. I wanted in, so I signed up to volunteer, along with my wife and two daughters.
Early Monday morning we arrived at our assigned Serve Center in the heart of LA, as did 20,000 other volunteers spread among five Serve Centers throughout the city, each of them united around the mission to show the greatest display of love Southern California has ever experienced.
I then watched the impact unfold. Through this initiative, over $40 million in medical debt was eliminated for families across LA. Volunteers provided and delivered necessities to families in need including beds, cribs, and refrigerators to their homes to bring them into compliance with Child Protective Services (CPS). The result was that more than 200 Child Protective Services cases were closed in a single week, and that families would be able to stay together. And for those kids without a mom or dad, thousands of loving families were activated to pursue fostering or adoption.
1DayLA answered its own question in the way we had hoped it would; love can change a city, but there is still more to be done. The impact isn’t merely about filling a need, it’s about shaping a heart, and this week of serving left a permanent impression on me.
My gratitude has grown; both for what I’ve been given and the ability for me to help others through what I’ve been given. A deeper love for people has been ignited within me, and a burden to actively express this love.
Our assignment on the very first day was to throw a block party for the residents of a public housing project. As our co-volunteers cooked hot dogs, raffled off new appliances and gave free haircuts, my family and I worked the bounce house for the kids. We used a garden hose to turn the bounce house into a water slide, which created a joyful, muddy mess as the kids lined up for turn after turn. The smiles said it all, but one little girl exclaimed, “I’ve never had this much fun before in my life!” And that struck me. Seeing her joy with such a simple thing made me realize how much I take for granted every day.
Later in the week, we spent a day walking Skid Row (which contains one of the largest populations of homeless in the United States) handing out hot food and basic supplies and pointing people to mobile medical clinics stationed nearby. We met Byron and ended up spending nearly an hour talking with him. He is a friendly guy, and smart, but he’s been experiencing homelessness since getting out of prison last year. We asked him what he wants. “Same thing anyone wants,” Byron said, “A little food, a little water, a shirt, and someone to love and who loves me.”
Byron reminded me that even humble provisions are a gift for which we should be incredibly thankful.
My family didn’t do anything particularly heroic during that week. We painted murals with foster kids, handed out supplies, we shared a little relationship with people and maybe planted some seeds of faith, hope, and love. But I’ve come to believe that if your life isn’t about the small acts of kindness, it will never be about the big ones. And after serving all week, I now find myself constantly scanning my environment for small ways that I might be able to help someone.
A few months ago, my daughter and her friend set up a lemonade stand, and I came along to supervise. At one point a car pulled over, and a man ordered one cup of 50-cent lemonade, handed them a $20 bill, and told them to keep the change. The girls couldn’t contain their excitement and ran over to tell me. I’ll be honest, though I loved seeing their joy, the overshadowing thought was a cynical, “Who does that?”
But after my volunteer experience, something in my outlook changed. The other day as I was driving, I saw some kids on the side of the road with – you guessed it – a lemonade stand. And my only thought was to stop the car and buy a cup for $20 and offer a word of encouragement.
Who does that?
Well, apparently me now. It’s just one example of how I’m now searching for ways to bring a little light into people’s lives. Imagine if we all turned our focus from what divides us and prioritized lifting each other up.
So, what can love do? Yes, it does change cities and inspire nations. But it starts by changing the heart. It certainly did mine, and I am so thankful Cisco gave me the opportunity and the time to experience this movement.
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