Aiyana Castro, who just turned 12, has been service minded since she was a little girl, concerned especially about the homeless community in her city. Whether handing out food and water in the blazing desert heat or working at food banks to package family meals, she’s at it, without fail, sometimes several times a week. But the pandemic was her tipping point. At the end of April, as the virus raged, frontline workers and those most at risk in the community were finding it difficult to source face masks. Aiyana refused to see that happening. She was able to collect more than 1,000 double layered masks for Candlelighters Cancer Foundation. Concerned about hospice patients isolated from their loved ones because of Covid-19, she wrote more than 500 handmade cards to comfort these patients and make them smile.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Since I was little I have always loved helping others. Since the pandemic the need has just gotten greater. I love knowing I have helped make a difference in someone’s life even if it was in a small way. The smiles and the thank yous truly makes my heart happy.
Describe your volunteer role?
I like to get out in the community, whether it’s delivering boxed lunches to hospital staff or handing out water to homeless folks, the interaction is what gives me happiness.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding experience is when I was out in the neighborhood handing out waters, snacks, blankets, socks and pillows to the homeless community. There was this gentleman who was homeless and when I handed him a pillow he hugged it and his face lit up like a kid at Christmas! It was so emotional seeing how much that pillow meant to him. Simple things we take for granted.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have learned it’s the simple things people value most, like a conversation and a smile. I do a lot of work with the homeless community and I have been told over and over “Thank you for making me feel NORMAL.” Acknowledging them as a fellow human with a smile and a few words, just letting them know they aren’t invisible. We need to be kind to each other because we don’t know what someone else is battling. Your kindness can make a HUGE difference and you may never even know.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I’m super excited for what’s coming up next, which is stuffing stockings for our service men and women and working with Wreaths around America, for which we’ll be placing wreathes on veteran’s graves. It’s a way to show our appreciation for all they do.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Change begins with you! Just small random acts of kindness can really make a impact on someone. We may not change the world but we can make a huge difference one person at a time.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
That age doesn’t matter when it comes to giving back! Anyone can make a difference in the community and people around them. The joy you bring to others, the reactions on people’s faces, just knowing you had a small part in making someone’s day brighter or easier is something that fills me with extreme happiness. Change starts with you! I challenge you to be the reason someone smiles today!
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Aiyana? Find local volunteer opportunities.