How our volunteers are making a world of difference

Volunteering is an important part of creating positive change in our world.

LiveDifferent relies heavily on volunteers to support our mission and we are truly grateful for their dedication and hard work in making this change possible.

For more than twenty years, our volunteers have been making a difference in the lives of people in need. From humanitarian work in Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic to inspiring youth across Canada, our volunteers embody what it means to live a life of caring for others.

From those who have been with us for years to those who have recently joined our ranks, each and every one of our volunteers is a valuable asset to our organization and to our cause.

Bill Rawlins’ 18-year journey with LiveDifferent

As a long-time volunteer, Bill Rawlins – president of the Parksville Rotary Club – has seen first-hand the impact that his efforts have had on the communities that LiveDifferent serves. Bill joined us on our first Build ever in the Dominican Republic, and over the past 18 years, has been on more than 50 Builds.

Bill was a principal at a high school in Parksville when he first heard of LiveDifferent—though back then, it was known as Absolute Leadership Development, Inc. After one of our in-school presentations in 2005, Bill’s daughter Lauren was the only student at the school to sign up for our first Build. Bill joined her as a Team Leader and the rest is history— from the Dominican Republic to Mexico, to Haiti and back.

“The project was digging a water line from a natural spring on the hillside down into the village of Ascension,” said Bill. “What was happening in that village, some of the kids were dying from the parasites in the water they were drinking, that was coming up through a rusty old hand pump.”

The team succeeded in getting the water line to the top of the village, and Bill and his daughter returned the next year to continue their volunteer efforts. It was during that return trip that Bill truly understood his impact, which has kept him coming back ever since.

The power of compassion

While touring through the village of Ascension with our team in 2006, Bill and Lauren came upon a bunker where a woman was cooking lunch for her and her two children. The kids had “swollen tummies, orange-coloured hair,” and were “obviously severely malnourished.”

And in her frying pan for their lunch, the woman was cooking two meagre fish heads.

“I was done. I was absolutely done,” Bill said. “I looked at Lauren, she looked at me [with tears in our eyes] and I said, ‘This is not right sweetie, this is not right.’ And she said, ‘Daddy, it is not. What do we do? What can we do to change this?”

Bill shared this story with his fellow members at the Parksville Rotary Club as an example of how bad things can be for those living in poverty and told them they needed to do whatever they could to help address this issue.

Part of the Rotary Club’s mandate is to fundraise and finance an international and community project every year, and while it was standard for them to write checks for causes in the past, Bill was motivated to get them more involved in a hands-on way.

The result has been amazing.

Since 2014, the Parksville Rotary Club has travelled down to Mexico to build houses, a community centre, a kindergarten classroom, the Brigade 54 Adult Education Center and a tech classroom in Centro De Bachillerato Tecnológico Agropecuario (CBTA). With the help of district matching grants, donations from local businesses and some serious fundraising by the club and local volunteers, the Rotary Club has been able to make a real difference in the lives of the communities they serve.

Bill also started the Interact Club for students ages 12 to 18 so that more young people can be involved in these projects. He says the highlight for him is when he sees the way these kids are awakened to the potential of their own compassion and kindness as they come to understand the power of their actions to positively impact lives.

“It’s very rewarding to see that we really have made a difference,” says Bill. “Lives have been impacted and the idea that changed hearts can change the world is absolutely true.”

Bill’s story is an inspiring example of how one person can make a huge difference.

The kindness and generosity of volunteers like Bill are truly remarkable and have changed the lives of countless people. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing group of people who are willing to commit to such positive change, and we are so grateful for their dedication and hard work.

So here’s to our volunteers – thank you for all that you do!

Author: Gina Alward

Date: January 31st, 2023

She Went With Friends, Then Experienced a Build Solo – Q & A with Emily

Emily’s first Build was alongside familiar faces as part of a group, then she decided to sign up for one of our public Builds without knowing anyone else. We talked with Emily about her two trips, found out how it felt to visit the family she had previously built with, and asked her what she hopes to never forget from her most recent time in the Dominican Republic.

Your first experience was on a group Build. Who was that with?
I first learned about Builds from my dance teacher, Kelci Tookey. She has been going to the Dominican Republic with LiveDifferent since 2011 and has been doing Builds ever since. Kelci started her own group called Building Dreams, which I had the honour of joining in 2018. It was a really special trip because not only did we get to help build a home for an amazing family, we also got to help build a dance studio. It was an experience that I will treasure forever.

I am so thankful to Kelci for sharing her passion because being a part of that Build absolutely changed my life. She was very encouraging of me to join a public build and I am so happy I did.

You chose to come back on a public Build and mentioned that a highlight for you was being able to meet people you didn’t already know. Were there any specific moments where you knew you were forming lasting friendships?
I remember talking with Aerin, another volunteer, on the bus ride back to the resort. By this time our group was feeling like a family. We were so in awe of the fact that, amongst people who were practically strangers, we both felt the most at home. We described that while on the Build, we were able to be the most authentic versions of ourselves. We felt completely understood by our peers, which is a feeling we have struggled to find back in Canada. It was upsetting to be leaving a place of such love but also comforting to know that place even existed.

Going back to the Dominican Republic, you had the chance to visit the family that you had previously built for. What was that like?
I was so excited to see the family, and a little nervous. I knew they were not expecting me and I was coming alone without my group. Only one of the oldest sisters was home but as soon as she saw me, she got right on the phone to call the rest of the family. The grandson, who I made a special connection with last year, was at his mother’s house and when I said “¡Hola!” to him on FaceTime, his jaw dropped and the call immediately ended. Minutes later he came bursting through the door and into my arms, hardly able to catch his breath because he ran all the way to the house. There was no better feeling in the world than getting to see his smile again.

What is one thing that you’ve learned during this last Build that you hope your future self will never forget?
Every time I talk about the Builds, all I can say is how thankful I am. I am so thankful that I have learned what I have about myself and about life. I came on my first Build when I was 18 years old, a few months after graduating from high school. It was a time where I felt lost and without a purpose. I didn’t see the value in much of anything and I never felt like I was enough.

The people that I have met and the experiences I have had during these Builds have changed my entire outlook on life. I have been taught so much kindness, appreciation and support, and have been given the inspiration and the confidence to create goals for myself that I would have never previously imagined.

I hope I never forget that no matter how much you have, there is always something to give. I hope I never forget how amazing it feels to be surrounded by people who love you for you. I hope I remember that hugs are always better than handshakes, and that there are so many more important things happening that are not on my phone. I hope I never lose the passion I have right now. I see myself being a part of things like this for a very long time, if not, for the rest of my life. But no matter where life takes me, I hope that I never forget that the greatest thing in life is joy—and that people are the best way to find it.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: January 16th, 2023