When You Volunteer, the Biggest Beneficiary Is ... You
Working as a Visitor Host at the 911 Memorial at the new World Trade Center (formerly Ground Zero) has been nothing short of life affirming and life changing. As I am witnessing history in the making, I also acknowledge that I am playing an integral role of that history, and that is something that will stay with me forever.
In working as an integral part of a team of other hosts, security personnel and the police, I know that we are all providing a strong sense of support and comfort for all the family members, survivors, and first responders who were significantly impacted by the horror of that fateful day 10 years ago. My central role at the 911 Memorial is to provide information to loved ones and friends at the memorial site as to where they can find the engraved names of their friends and loved ones on the parapets of the footprints of the former Twin Towers, in addition to giving comfort to those who are grieving.
And despite the long hours in the sun and the extensive training for this present work, I feel a strong sense of love and compassion for not only my fellow Americans visiting the site but, for all the visitors from all parts of the world who come to pay their respects to not only those who perished but, to all New Yorkers and Americans who also suffered from this act of savagery on our soil.
In addition to appreciating the work I do, I also marvel at how the designers and builders of the memorial site have provided a place for everyone to enjoy a sense of peace and tranquility while visiting this sacred place. With newly planted trees and grass and magnificent waterfalls in pools where the Twin Towers once stood, they have changed what was once a pile of rubble into a sanctuary for the visitors and workers alike.
While working at the memorial, it does bring me back to the long hours of work in counseling PWAS and serving food in the kitchens at Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Bailey House, a home for people with AIDS, at the height of the epidemic.
I knew then as I do now, that I was doing something important not only for myself but, for the betterment of others in need. It only affirmed the importance of doing charitable work. I only hope that my gay brothers and sisters will do charity work at some time in their lives as an opportunity to do something wonderful for others and not just for oneself or one’s small circle of friends.
In a recent recent article called "Charity Work," from the recent post from, the anonymous author views charitable work as being, "the most rewarding things that a person can get involved in. Not only does it help the charitable cause one is working for, its impact on the person doing the work is long-lasting. It is perhaps one of the easiest ways in which a person can impact their planet in a positive way while improving themselves."
As I comfort someone who breaks out in tears recalling that terrible day, I know that I am helping a fellow human being who needs me to be emotionally present for him or her in their moment of vulnerability and pain; a time in their lives (some for the first time) where they are allowing themselves the opportunity to cry in a safe place where no one would ever criticize them for being emotional.
In a world where so many are either in emotional, financial, or physical pain and distress, it is sure nice to know that there will always be someone there to give comfort and support in times of need. I know that the LGBT community has always been in the forefront in these difficult and challenging times as well.
For who other than the LGBT community has learned to adapt to times of adversity and challenge while living in a society where our lifestyle is not always accepted? My sensitivity has only become ever heightened due to potential threat from those who hate or criticize us for whom we chose to love. As a result, we, more than most others, know what it is like to be in pain and seeing that pain in others.
That is why it ever more important to do charitable work for others, not only to challenge the ignorance of those who don’t accept us but, to make evident our own loving and giving natures in difficult times for our planet and its citizens.
In the words of Walt Whitman, "Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity. When I give, I give myself."
Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.