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’Tis the Season to Volunteer

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Modernizing Medicine provides team members one day off from work each year to give back to the community with volunteer time off (VTO). After participating in this great benefit, I’m thrilled to share my volunteer experience at PACE Center for Girls Broward during the Annual Santa’s Workshop event. Since then, I’ve been thinking about what the experience meant to me. I had a hard time getting my keyboard to express everything I need to say, so I decided to start at the beginning.

I was first introduced to PACE Center for Girls when our CFO/COO Karen O’Byrne invited me to attend their annual Believing in Girls Empowerment Luncheon in early 2014. PACE is a free service that supports girls ages 11-18 who are often behind academically and subject to certain additional risk factors, such as foster home placement, substance abuse personally or by a family member, victim of domestic violence, incarceration of a family member, different forms of abuse and more. At PACE, each girl is able to build up her protective factors and coping skills through training, education, counseling, and advocacy.

During this introductory luncheon, I listened to stories about the unique personal challenges these young ladies face and how PACE is helping them overcome their obstacles. Their stories were filled with determination, courage, and perseverance. When I looked around the room, many attendees were busy wiping away tears, myself included.

I also met staff members who were friendly, genuine, and caring professionals. I felt their warmth and their sincere appreciation that we attended their luncheon and donated to their cause. Since that moment, PACE, and all it stands for, captured a special place in my heart.

When the opportunity to volunteer with PACE during the 2015 Christmas holiday presented itself, I immediately reached out. I knew it was how I want to spend my VTO.

This was my first time visiting PACE’s beautiful Broward location. As I (carrying homemade baked brownies) was buzzed into the secured building, the essence of holiday spirit quickly surrounded me. The waiting area was full of holiday spirit and was warm and inviting. Stockings hung on walls, stuffed reindeer toys snuggled together in a chair, and candy canes were joyfully placed in a striped jar by the sign-in sheet. There was excitement in the air, and I was excited to partake in the festivities.

Once I received my nametag, I joined the other female volunteers in the multi-purpose room who were in the process of sorting through containers to create gift-wrapping stations. The long tables were sorted with various sizes of holiday and festive themed boxes and bags, dozens of rolls of wrapping paper, colorful ribbons and bows, and cards. I was assigned to a table and given tape, pen, and pair of scissors. In the kitchen, women were preparing platters filled with assorted cookies, brownies and cupcakes. There was also a hot cocoa station complete with marshmallows and candy cane toppings.

The Program Operations Manager, Karyn Keil, gave us a rundown of the day’s events. For this event, the idea was to use positive reinforcement in the form of a token economy. The first activity consisted of five girls visiting the “gift” room and using their equally allotted points to “shop.” The girl who went first were the girls who had reached the highest level on the PACE level system. They would then be escorted to the multi-purpose room with their gifts. Each volunteer would partner with a student, and all gifts would be wrapped with their name. The girls would then visit the sweets station for a cup of hot cocoa and their choice of snack before going back to class. Of course, holiday music was a background element throughout the morning.

As a volunteer, I was a “guide” (Santa’s little helper), assisting these young ladies in selecting the best method of wrapping for their gift. Most of the girls had never gone shopping for holiday gifts, so buying, wrapping, giving, and receiving presents was not a familiar activity.

I had the privilege of working with a few PACE students who were so proud to have gifts for their loved ones. One girl spent all of her points on a coat she was going to give to her mom when she saw her in Virginia. Another girl spent her points on gifts for her baby brother whom she was going to meet for the first time.

These young female students were so proud to show their selection of gifts, and so appreciative that we were there to help wrap gifts with them. A few even voiced just how thankful they were. One girl asked if we were professional gift wrappers, like in the mall.

Sharing those hours was the best gift I could have given myself. These girls had such a positive impact on me. Despite their tough circumstances, they still had innocence. A few were open and trusting, sharing smiles and chatting about their holiday plans. A few were guarded, but that didn’t deter me from approaching them. I wanted to earn their trust and offer my assistance until we ended with a smile and exchanged a sincere appreciation.

I had a truly amazing experience volunteering at Santa’s Workshop with PACE and felt so fortunate to be a part of their special day. Hands down, I had the most enlightening and wonderful time. I can’t wait to do it again during the 2016 holiday season! To learn more about PACE and how you can become involved, visit their website at or sign up for a Point of Entry tour with Kathleen Ryan at Kathleen.ryan@pacecenter.org.