Acts of service are not just something I firmly believe in doing. In my life, it has proven to be a solid foundation for building meaningful relationships, especially my marriage. My love for service began in high school where I was a student in the International Baccalaureate program. This program was much more than academic rigor, it focused on graduating life-long learners and well-rounded, worldly citizens. In addition to excelling in academics, graduating with an IB diploma required creativity, action, and service (CAS) hours. Although service was a requirement, it presented me a variety of opportunities and experiences that sparked a true passion for serving others.
I met Nikko during this time and even back then, he had nothing but aspirations to be in the military, the ultimate service. As we spent more time together, we started to do service projects together on the weekends. It was something that we both enjoyed and felt was a worthwhile use of time. Sharing this interest with my future husband meant a lot to me and I knew it was something I felt was worth building our relationship on.
In college, we both attended Virginia Tech. Nikko followed his military aspirations in ROTC with the Corp of Cadets while I was a “civilian” having the normal college experience. Virginia Tech’s motto is “Ut Prosim” meaning “that I may serve.” This motto truly resonates with the students and is exemplified everyday. Whether its something as small as holding the door for other students on the way to class or something as big as providing ground-breaking research to the Flint, Michigan water crisis efforts, Virginia Tech students give freely of their time and energy to help the lives of others. This is met by the school’s unending opportunities to take part in service events. We took full advantage of each and every opportunity while at school. Nikko spent winter breaks volunteering with ex-convicts through Homeboys Industries in East Los Angeles and teaching English to children in Myanmar. I joined Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity doing various weekly projects locally in Blacksburg and spent time serving new students in Orientation and Hokie Camp. Virginia Tech provided the perfect environment to cultivate a life of service and make an impact not only in the community but also in the world.
When we left college to begin “adulting,” it became challenging to find volunteer opportunities. One of the things that made it so challenging was that my view of what “service” was, was quite narrow I would come to find. In pursuing my MBA with a Christian university, I was presented with refreshing outlooks on things that I knew to be daily tasks, namely my job. Through my class readings, I learned what God had intended by giving us “work” when he said “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The obvious take-away is to “fill the earth” with children but the equally important message is a God-given responsibility to “subdue the earth” by taking care of each other and the rest of God’s creations. We do this through community service but we also do this day-to-day through our jobs. I never understood the gravity of this idea until I thought about how many people I potentially reach or impact just by doing my job and doing it right. I try to remind myself of this, especially when I find work particularly frustrating.
Another reason it became challenging to find volunteer opportunities was that we were no longer in a communal school environment with endless time and opportunities to serve. We had to seek out opportunities for ourselves. Nikko, being a voracious reader, had read a book by Eric Greitens, a veteran and founder of an organization known as “The Mission Continues (TMC).” TMC is a non-profit organization that provides “opportunities for post-9/11 veterans to find purpose at home through community impact” (The Mission Continues, 2017). They lead operations in cities all over the country and have fostered participation from veterans of every generation. Nikko resonated with mission and purpose of TMC and researched the nearest chapter, when he was recruiting in Atlanta. When I would come to visit (we were still long distance), we would participate in their service projects, revamping community gardens and taking part in Habitat for Humanity builds. He took on leadership roles within the organization and met people who would become friends through their shared passion for service. In St. Louis, we researched other veteran service organizations to volunteer with. We have found a home with the Military Veterans Service Association (MVSA). We have done a couple community projects and have met great people in doing so. The military has provided us channels to lead lives of service and meet others who share a similar passion.
Nikko and I intend to continue serving with MVSA until we get another assignment. When that does happen, we will continue to find opportunities to lead lives of service. When Nikko gets deployed, I plan on remaining active with service organizations to not only pass his time away but to gain a sense of community when I need it most. When he gets back, one of the items on our bucket list is to travel abroad on a “volunteer vacation” which would allow us to see the world while spreading love beyond our local communities. As our lives progress and kids enter the picture, we have talked about striving to raise them with a similar passion for service. When they get old enough, we will bring them along to service projects so that they can see the good that can come of simple acts of kindness and community involvement firsthand. And when they grow up, hopefully they will instill the same ideals in the next generation and so on and so forth. The military has and will continue to present us with opportunities to do just this.