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The best job I’ve had hasn’t paid me a dime. In fact, I lose money in it. The good news is, I’m not referring to my investment management skills – that’s usually a career-limiting move when you’re chief financial officer.
About five months ago, I began volunteering with Give Kids the World Village as an airport greeter at Orlando International Airport. I did this to find a way to relieve stress and reconnect. I needed something to make me feel human again. That might sound selfish, and perhaps it was. But regardless of the initiative, the outcome has been regenerative for me, and I like to think I’ve had a small impact in a broken world.
If you’re not in Orlando or if you haven’t heard about it, I encourage you to check it out (www.gktw.org). The village is an 84-acre resort in Kissimmee (for comparison, Magic Kingdom is 107 acres) that was founded by a Holocaust survivor in 1989. The village houses over 150 families who come to Central Florida through the Make a Wish Foundation or a similar organization to spend three days at Disney, two days at Universal and one day at SeaWorld, for free. It’s a chance for the Wish Child and their parents and siblings to try to put aside the pain, stress and fear of a chronic or terminal illness. In addition to some paid staff, the village relies on 250 volunteers a day to keep it running. We welcome 20 or more families daily at the airport. Since 1989, over 150,000 families have stayed at the village and for some, repeat trips for siblings who become ill will bring them back.
I live five miles from the airport, so volunteering as a greeter seemed logical. My job is simple. I show up at the terminal with a sign welcoming the Wish Child and a Smarte Carte for their luggage. I greet them, take them to baggage claim, educate them briefly on the village, and check them in at the rental car kiosk or shuttle service if they need wheelchair assistance, and then they’re off. I’ll never see them again. I pray that hour I do spend with them brings comfort and shows them that they’re not alone – that people they’ve never met care about their pain.
In the last five months, I’ve greeted 75 families and volunteered over 100 hours, usually between 8PM and 1AM during the week and a couple of hours each weekend. I’ve been blessed by families from Peru, Canada, UK, Israel, Mexico, India and Panama. With about 70 of those kids, you’d have no idea they’ve survived or are currently battling cancer, or that they are burdened with seizures, or that they have brain surgery scheduled in three weeks. They’re just kids – full of life, thrilled by the excitement that awaits them.
I get hugs. I get thank-you cards. I get to have my picture taken with heroes.
I love my job, and I’m not paid a dime.
But there’s a halo effect. As I stand at the terminal eagerly searching for my guests, I am passed by hundreds of other passengers every greet. I see them staring at the sign as they come near, trying to see why Alexis gets a special ride. Then they smile when they see why. Who knows where that thought goes, but I pray it’s a small “pay it forward” moment.
As we watch the news these days in shock and horror, spend some time talking to your neighbors. Do something for someone who may never know you were the one who did it for them. Be the butterfly that sets the wind in motion.