Service Events Coordinator, Megan Germain shares her thoughts on how service has shaped her experiences over the past year.

A few weeks ago, on the cusp of my one year anniversary with Chicago Cares, I had what Oprah might call an “ah-ha!” moment. Early one morning, my senior manager Laura and I stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast. We were going to be prepping all day for a Business Shares project and we needed coffee. On our way out, a young man stopped us, shared a brief, yet mumbled story, and before I knew it, Laura was back in line ordering an iced coffee.

I whispered “What did he say Laura? I couldn’t understand him.” She said “He just got released from prison and his family has given up on him. He has nowhere to go, no money and asked for something to drink. He’s very thirsty.” I turned to look at him, and beyond his disheveled appearance his eyes were sincere. I reached into my bag and handed him the only Diet Coke I brought for the day. The young man thanked us profusely.

My “ah-ha!” moment came later that evening as I reflected on the exchange in McDonalds. Before working at Chicago Cares and truly dedicating volunteer hours to causes I felt most worthy, I would have quickly dismissed that man, I would not have taken the time to hear his story.

While working and volunteering with Chicago Cares, I have encountered many people like the man in McDonalds that day. They have been children needing improved places to learn, homeless people trying to get back on their feet, seniors living out their days isolated in public housing, adults living with developmental disabilities, and the list goes on. Having met them has brought their needs and their pain to the forefront of my mind. Rather than get frustrated and dismiss others as being purposefully annoying, rude, or dangerous, I jump to the “what-ifs?”

What if that grumpy cashier battles everyday to stay off drugs and half a smile is all they can muster? 

What if that slow pedestrian, who seems to be in my way, has such severe knee pain that it’s a daily struggle to remain mobile and independent? What if they can’t afford surgery? 

I’ve been thinking about how my life has changed since working here, and in general how much happier I am. I believe it all boils down to one simple idea; service has changed my perception of this world and my role in it. Service has helped me to become a more patient person. And what is patience really, if not forgiveness and acceptance.

I imagine that man in McDonalds was speaking incomprehensibly fast because countless other people did not have the patience to stop and listen. Had they listened, they would have realized that he wasn’t asking for much, only a cool drink on a hot day. It’s true that patience is a virtue. If you don’t practice it, you could miss the world around you and the opportunity to make it better.

You can build a better Chicago. Volunteer.