The decision to help another person can be complicated. But for some people, it’s simple. Some people believe everyone deserves kindness and dignity and they live their lives accordingly, even if things get complicated.
Melina Oseguera, a recent graduate of Paint Branch High School, is one of them. As the Founder and Director of a community organization called Bundled Smiles, she leads high-school and college students across Maryland providing care packages to the homeless while treating them with dignity.
“By providing these packages,” Melina says, “We are aiming to help them feel more confident and ultimately look for ways to get out of their current situation. We want them to feel as though they have not been forgotten in society.”
To identify people most in need, Melina says, “We drive around and ask people if they know people in need and we go and help.”
Debra Lang has been in the “helping” business a bit longer– she’s the Executive Director of KindWorks, a group that has been encouraging and inspiring volunteer service to bring needed resources to the community since 2007.
“Often we work with government agencies and other nonprofits that need help with their mission,” Debra says.
Their projects include Harvest Share, where gardeners donate extra produce. Last year, the maiden run generated 9,000 pounds of donated fresh produce delivered in partnership with food-assistance providers.
KindWorks volunteers also cook and deliver meals; collect and deliver school supplies; and annually provide underserved kids with enriching, creative and recreational items for fun and meaningful summers. They have even driven a truck of humanitarian supplies to the southern border in Texas, although mostly, their efforts are focused closer to home.
KindWorks also refurbishes computers for students, families or groups in need, through their Digital Empowerment Initiative.
“All those laptops you don’t know what to do with? We wipe them clean and give them another five to seven years by upgrading and cleaning them,” Debra says.
Like KindWorks, Bundled Smiles fills specific needs. Last summer, as Melina’s group handed food and water to homeless people, they asked about their needs. From those conversations, the Bundled Smiles team created a list of toiletry and hygiene items that they now try to include in each delivery.
Winston Churchill High School student Jessica Qiu has been volunteering with KindWorks since middle school. Of the organization she says: “I like volunteering to serve dinner at the women’s shelter because it’s more than just serving food; I’ve talked to so many different women and heard great stories that I wouldn’t hear anywhere else. It’s amazing how much of an impact KindWorks continues to make on the community!”
Jessica plans to study corporate responsibility in college. “I want to tie my love for volunteering and making positive change with business in order to leave my mark on society,” she says.
Walt Whitman High School student Chloe Maciejewski also volunteers with KindWorks. “I used to play the violin, so I thought it would be nice to help out,” she said, referring to a KindWorks program that gives donated instruments to music students in need. Later, Chloe helped with the KindWorks Digital Empowerment Initiative by delivering donated computers and equipment to volunteers who did the refurbishing.
Brothers Sulayman, 11, and Yousuf Ahmad, 9 attend Norwood School and are among the youngest volunteers at KindWorks. The brothers help cook and prepare food at homeless shelters.
Sulayman says, “When I made the bag for each person it made me feel like I was actually helping. It was really good that I knew I was doing that work myself and especially in Ramadan when we are fasting, it helped to think of other people.”
Yousuf adds, “I started the soup making because I love to cook and it's good to not just cook for yourself but for others like people in need.”
When Melina heads off to Stanford University in the fall, she plans to have someone manage Bundled Smiles in Maryland while she sets up a branch to work with the homeless in California.
When Yousuf and Sulayman delivered their sandwiches, they wrote uplifting messages on each bag, “So that the person who eats it can also maybe feel a little better,” says Yousuf who adds, “Everyone is special too, and even homeless or people in a shelter, because they are people.” And that should be simple enough for us all.
To get involved with these groups, visit DoKindWorks.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://BundledSmiles.Wixsite.com/HomelessOrganization or check out Bundled Smiles on Instagram or Twitter.