Earlier this month, I flew from JFK to Warsaw, then on to Poznan, Poland to meet up
with my friend Mariusz Szeib, who is a local business leader there. He and I had met when
we both ran the Antarctica marathon, celebrating our 60th. birthday and completing seven marathons on seven continents. You can see how we might have bonded!
Over the years we have stayed in touched, meeting up at the Berlin marathon and sharing running stories, as we continued to add to our individual conquests.
When the atrocities happened to the Ukraine, I reached out to Mariusz to see how I might help and that led to the decision that I would come to Poznan where there have been 40,000 refugees to date that have arrived at this medium size city a few hours west of Warsaw.
My plan would be to volunteer in one of the centers and to meet with local government officials and NGOs that were helping with the assimilation of refugees into the local community.
The goal would be to determine how Circle of Generosity, a foundation that a group of us started 12 years ago might be able to help.
On my first day, approaching the large sports arena turned refugee center, I saw scores of women and children waiting outside with luggage before being registered to be able to get a cot to sleep on, as well as have access to food and clothing.
My volunteer work was in the clothing distribution area, where we helped families find clothes and shoes, as well as sorted the piles of boxes of donations that came in from all over. During my half day there, I saw the exhausted faces of mothers and the quiet weariness of the children, even when I went to see them in the makeshift play area. I wondered how this traumatic experience would affect them in the years to come.
A poignant moment was when a smiling young boy held up a toothbrush and toothpaste and through a translator told me that he was happy to be able to brush his teeth for the first time in many days.
During my trip, I met with the President of the City Council, the Deputy Mayor, the leaders of several NGOs and a team at BioPharma, a company that was getting medicines into Ukraine.
What struck me throughout my trip was the enormous selflessness and service that the Polish people have embraced in helping their neighbors during this horrific time. Many families are taking refugees into their own homes, everyday citizens are donating food and money for other basic essentials. Companies are giving people time off to volunteer and help with the effort.
The essence of service to others was and is alive and prospering far away from the news cameras and reporters on the ground. It has just become how the Poles are living their lives right now.
With help from Mariusz, I was able to identify several NGOs that Circle of Generosity will work with in providing financial support to Ukrainian families. It is our goal to find them shelter, as well as basic needs that might include clothing, household products and food vouchers from local grocery stores.
All in, we have a commitment of over $100,000 that we will distribute to the Ukrainian refugee community over the next months.
Service comes in all forms, from volunteering, sending donations to your favorite charity or serving on a board that allows you to share your expertise in ways that will help them grow.
What matters is that we all participate in some way.
My trip to Poland reinforced my own commitment to service and how it plays an integral role in my life. On the flight home as I reflected on my days in Poznan, it filled me with meaning and fulfillment and gratitude that I was able to play my small part in helping within the crisis. Every small gesture adds up to an abundance of support that brings relief.
How will you be of service to others this year? Find your path. Make the commitment. It will enrich your soul in ways that will create satisfaction and happiness in your life.