There is value in painting walls and raking leaves!

Posted on November 30, 2010

This week’s blog was written by VSH’s volunteer program coordinator, Alison Jones-Nassar.

Watching School Pride last Friday night, I had an epiphany about the importance of our property projects. Environment matters. I’m not really a TV watcher and we don’t have cable, so I have never seen channels like HGTV and DIY that others rave about. In addition, we don’t own a home so I could care less about shows like Extreme Makeover. But even with the recent housing crash, home ownership is still at the heart of the American Dream, and entire industries have developed around the idea of transforming one’s house into The Dream Home. From books and magazines to tools and accessories to contractors and designers, we are ready to invest fortunes into our personal spaces. For some it’s merely irresistible but for others it’s downright addictive.

At the core of it all is a fundamental psychological truth: we need beauty, color, symmetry, light, harmony, and balance in our physical surroundings….It’s a fact. A wealth of research confirms our intuitive understanding that environment affects everything from mood and behavior to cognitive performance. Although Maslow’s hierarchy assigns the importance of shelter to the bottom of the pyramid, the importance of securing, personalizing, and decorating one’s shelter represents an act of self-actualization that fulfills our deepest needs for esteem, achievement, and belonging.

Environment really does matter.

And yet it somehow feels wrong, too self-absorbed, to fluff our personal nests in these days when so many are going through foreclosure and bankruptcy, when family homelessness is on the rise and personal wealth only underscores the widening gap in our country between the minority haves and the majority have nots.

School Pride comes along at a perfect time, combining two hardwired instincts – our selfish desire for beautiful spaces with our selfless need to help those around us who are less fortunate – to create a “reality” show that actually seems worthwhile. Public school systems are facing unprecedented budget crises and kids are suffering as a result. Enrichment classes are getting cut, buildings are crumbling, and teachers are struggling to make do with minimal resources.

But can we really change lives with a fresh paint job and new desks? The answer comes from the kids themselves: “It made me feel for the first time like somebody cared.” “I felt like I mattered.” “I felt like we weren’t so forgotten.” “It made me feel like we belonged.” Subjective statements are one thing. Objective measurements are another. The show ends by documenting the grade point increases and test score improvements that resulted from the cosmetic upgrades.

So what does this have to do with VSH’s volunteer program? We offer many opportunities for volunteers to paint and clean and landscape throughout the year. These are opportunities that virtually anyone can take part in, and they are really fun. More than that, they accomplish real work that needs to get done at properties that our formerly homeless clients call Home. But what I have realized is that the real value of these projects goes even beyond that, back to those feelings so well-expressed by the students.

It matters that our clients don’t feel forgotten.
It matters that they feel like someone cares.
It matters that they have a sense of belonging to our community.

For many VSH clients, the emotional support that volunteers provide simply by sprucing up one of our supportive housing properties is in fact a critical element of the healing, recovery, and reintegration process. And in case you’re wondering, our clients not only notice these acts of kindness, but they deeply appreciate them as well. So the next time you question the value of painting walls or raking leaves in the Big Picture scheme of things, just remember one thing: it really does matter!

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