A Change of Heart to Change Lives

Langley students and community members share what holiday volunteering means to them

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A Change of Heart to Change Lives

Ana El-Bogdadi stands painting a door alongside fellow volunteers in Puerto Rico. El-Bogdadi has valued community service, especially its intersections with spirituality, from a young age (Photo by El-Bogadi).

Ana El-Bogdadi stands painting a door alongside fellow volunteers in Puerto Rico. El-Bogdadi has valued community service, especially its intersections with spirituality, from a young age (Photo by El-Bogadi).

Ana El-Bogdadi stands painting a door alongside fellow volunteers in Puerto Rico. El-Bogdadi has valued community service, especially its intersections with spirituality, from a young age (Photo by El-Bogadi).

Ana El-Bogdadi stands painting a door alongside fellow volunteers in Puerto Rico. El-Bogdadi has valued community service, especially its intersections with spirituality, from a young age (Photo by El-Bogadi).

Stacia Datskovska, Reporter

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Spending time with those you love, eating good food, or traveling might make for perfect winter plans. But holiday break also provides the perfect opportunity for humanitarianism with a little extra meaning. Some people, defying convention, choose to spend holidays by giving back to others— in this way honoring the true meaning of Christmas.  

Junior Ana El-Bogdadi has been volunteering on Christmas since 2012, by preparing meals ahead of time and serving them in local soup kitchens. This type of activity greatly aligns with the El-Bogdadi’s family values.  

“My family is Christian, so we have always believed that on Christmas, it’s important to make others happy, as God called on us to do. We have all that we need in our lives, so we should all try to give back to others in the community,” El-Bogdadi said. 

El-Bogdadi has volunteered over Christmas so frequently that she knows the process like a routine; her family always cooks the same menu, consisting lasagna, Caesar salad, bread rolls, and cupcakes. 

“We serve the food directly to the homeless, who are very grateful and kind,” ElBogdadi said. “The recipients of the food always say ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless you,’ which is heartwarming to hear.” 

This kind of generous reception is truly what makes El-Bogdadi come back to volunteer year after year. 

“I always remember the look on people’s faces when we give them food,” El-Bodgadi said. “The joy and satisfaction we witness from them truly makes my family’s day.” 

As wonderful as this opportunity is in helping out those less fortunate, El-Bogdadi is alarmed by how few teens take the time to volunteer. 

“I think volunteering over the holidays might not fit into most people’s ‘ideal’ of Christmas. In the future, though, I would definitely love to see more involvement from the youth,” El-Bogdadi said. 

Junior Camilla Ladygine similarly enjoys dedicating a portion of her time during the holiday months to volunteer. In the week leading up to break, she is hosting a food drive right in Langley Hall (as part of her Girl Up! Club initiative). Ladygine will drop off all the donated canned and dry food to the Capital Arena Food Bank, either in the DC or Lorton location. 

“I came up with the idea of a food drive by noticing that unlike other schools, Langley doesn’t organize drives to collect supplies, money, or food. I thought that if we already had Saxon Service, we should branch out and do even more to help others!” Ladygine said.  

Ladygine believes the holidays are an especially important time to volunteer, thus making her food drive at this specific time of the year. 

“Winter break is best when spent with loved ones, so initiatives like this give families a chance to enjoy moments together without focusing on providing for their basic needs, especially if they are hungry,” Ladygine said.  

In Langley’s privileged school climate, most are fortunate enough not to consciously realize that such essential needs might be denied someone. 

“We worry about the most trivial things like APs and grades, while many others’ struggles are far more serious,” Ladygine said. “Volunteering is eye-opening and allows one to understand more about societal issues, like that there are currently 1 in 8 kids in Virginia who are hungry.” 

For those who are hesitant to start volunteering, or might not know how, Ladygine’s advise is simple.  

“Participate in Saxon Service. Some of the activities, like editing poetry for prisoners or sorting crayons, are organized by Langley clubs, so it’s an easier way to get involved,” Ladygine said.  

Kevin Barbera, founder of the Barbera Foundation, is committed to connecting Northern Virginia residents to various community service projects. In December, Barbera held a toy drive to benefit Myanna’s Heart, an organization that benefits young heart surgery patients. 

“I was inspired to start my own initiatives in grad school, when I saw the homeless in DC and started providing them with food and supplies on a small scale,” Barbera said. “A few years later, my coworker and I organized a Thanksgiving buffet for the hungry, which went viral.” 

Barbera ended up cooking for more than 1,000 homeless in the area and attracted about 100 volunteers to help with the dinner. Seeing how successful the event turned out, Barbera decided to make a non-profit and diversify the initiatives he would offer. 

“I determine the specific needs of the community by networking with others in the non-profit space,” Barbera said. “Oftentimes the feedback I get is a great way to come up with future projects. 

Barbera’s holiday-specific volunteering opportunities are not limited to the toy drive, however. In the past, Barbera also organized Christmas caroling with the elderly and holiday care packages for those in need. Currently, Barbera distributes sleeping bags to the homeless– a kind and much-needed gesture, especially in the winter months.  

“Though I do hold many events in the holidays, community needs are always present, regardless of whether it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving, which speaks to the importance of volunteering year-round, if possible,” Barbera said. 

Like El-Bogdadi, Barbera can personally attest to the limited youth engagement in his organization and in the community in general (though age requirements or extensive background checks for volunteers may be partly to blame).  

“My goal is to make it easier for people to give back and allow everyone to participate,” Barbera said.  

 

Kevin Barbera stands next to Myanna Kempton of non-profit Myanna’s Heart. Barbera has dedicated his efforts to helping out similar organizations for the betterment of the community (Photo by Barbera).