Arts & Life

Voices - Giving From the Heart, December 2010

Written by Lilly Joynes | Dec 16, 2010 8:03 PM

Jillian Forbes, 24, is a full-time student at Harrisburg Area Community College and a part-time waitress at The Cellar in Camp Hill, where she lives. You may have seen her during previous holiday seasons at her job wearing a button that says, "All my tips go to charity." Forbes is a dedicated volunteer and finds many unique, creative ways to give time, effort and money to others.

One of these ways is that button she wears while she is working at The Cellar. During at least one day over the holidays, Forbes sacrifices an entire day or night's worth of tips and gives them to a charitable cause.

Usually, it goes to help Haiti, a cause near to her heart. Forbes founded a local effort called Hope in Haiti, which raises money and awareness about the challenges faced by those living on the poverty-stricken, earthquake ravaged Caribbean island.

Forbes has spent part of six summers in Haiti helping residents learn practical skills, health information and English. "It is a very valuable skill in Haiti to know how to speak English," Forbes says. "It's fun, because not only do I help them learn English, but they teach me Creole," the French-based dialect spoken in Haiti.

She notes that one of the most important things she does in Haiti is to simply listen to Haitians and treat them like friends, rather than recipients of charity. "When people know you care about them, they don't have to feel embarrassed when you give them something. They know that you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart, and not just because you want to feel good about yourself.

"The hardest part of volunteering in Haiti is coming home," she adds, "because you have to deal with the reality that no matter what you do in your lifetime, they will never have it as good [as you]. There is a part of you that has to block out a little bit of what you see to keep yourself from breaking down — what you see over there and what they don't have, then coming here and seeing how different it is."

Despite the potentially devastating effects, Forbes still firmly stands by Haiti as the cause most near and dear to her heart. "Everybody likes an adventure, and it is an exotic adventure. There's nothing like hopping on a plane and going over to Haiti to see your friends ... being able to see what your money and time have done, actually being able to see change."

Aside from helping those in Haiti, Forbes spends a significant amount of time volunteering with the youth at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Mechanicsburg. She taught the senior high youth for about three years, and has been a youth leader for the last six years. To be able to dedicate this much time to the youth, Forbes has to give up a lot of time with friends while continuing to balance part-time work and full-time student responsibilities as well.

Forbes feels the time she spends with the youth is worth sacrificing some of her personal time. "I enjoy being able to make an impact on young people and being able to inspire them to volunteer themselves. When you give someone your time over and over again, they start to realize that they can give back, too, and that's really valuable. Also, the personal relationships I get to build are really important."

The youth do many activities in the community, but making care packages for congregation members is Forbes' favorite. "It's fun because we all get to do something together. The kids get a chance to bake or draw cards. It also makes them more aware of things going on around them."

So what motivates Forbes to give so much of herself to others? "I think the most rewarding part is knowing that you're living your life in a good way. You're not just living your life for yourself, but you're taking into account to the people around you, and I think that's what it's all about." She adds that she feels it is her duty — everyone's duty — to volunteer. "I think I'm fulfilling what I'm supposed to do. It's important not to just sit by in life."

And the button thing? "Right now I'm the only one who does it, but maybe someday someone else will want to do it with me. A lot of people are just trying to make ends meet for their own families, so they can't afford to do it; I do it when I can afford to. Hopefully this year I can do it more than one night, but we just dropped a bunch of money on our cars," she laughs. "We'll have to see ... but at least once!"

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