I need to introduce you to a woman named Judie, who is an incredible example of how making a difference for others can directly improve the quality of your life.
Judie is in her 70s now, but 30 years ago, when her three sons were finally off to elementary school, she found herself with some time on her hands. She decided to fill that time by volunteering for a local hospice group. She figured, Why not? The experience would get her out of the house and be a way to help someone in need.
She holds a vivid memory of her first patient, a 38-year-old woman named Mia. Mia’s husband was dying of brain cancer, and she needed help caring for her small children—reading to them, playing games, cooking meals and being their friend.
Over the eight years that Judie volunteered for hospice, she observed many tragedies but always one common theme: There are so many people in this world who just want someone—anyone—to be there.
That first experience with Mia’s children never left Judie. When an adult dies, everyone is very attentive to the parent while the children are often forgotten.
So her next move was to volunteer as a counselor at a bereavement center for children. There is no question that once you tap into the power of being there for someone in need, it never leaves you. A couple years ago, on her 70th birthday (after having cared for her now-deceased husband), Judie took a trip to Vietnam. On her way, she passed through Cambodia. She was captivated by the temples, the people, the history. But it was the children who really found her heart. Everywhere she turned there were children in need. She learned about an organization called the Cambodian Living Arts (CLA), teaching children the arts that were all but lost in the genocide by the Khmer Rouge.
Consistent with her desire to give, Judie asked herself, What could I do to help CLA and these children? The answer: enroll (at the age of 71) in a local college course to learn the art of teaching English, then fly to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and live there for three months teaching English to schoolchildren.
This year will mark her third year in Cambodia, where she continues to teach and now sponsors the education of five CLA students. And Judie brings this spirit of giving into her own family. This past year around Christmas, she started The Giving Tree, a charitable foundation for her nine grandkids. All year, they put money into their piggy banks. At the end of the year, the grandkids pool the money together, the parents double it and Judie doubles the total. “Our kids have a lot, and they need a vehicle through which they can learn how giving can be the cherry on top of an already blessed life,” Judie says. Her hope is that her grandkids will spend some time over the course of the year thinking about how to save money and how they might spend it to benefit the needs of other people.
Judie is my mother-in-law. She told me, “If I leave nothing else, I hope I instill the excitement that comes from giving and the satisfaction that comes from just being there for someone.” Judie, you already have.