The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center has partnered with StoryCorps to share audio stories each month from inspiring folks in the community on the topic of “Who Inspires You to Make a Difference?” This week, we’re launching the sixth featured story on our Facebook page.
Barbara Roark talks with her daughter-in-law, Cristina, about the inspiration to serve others and what led to Barbara’s dedication to serving the homeless.
We spoke with Barbara and Cristina to learn more about what inspired them to make a difference and their experience chatting with StoryCorps. Learn more in the short interview below.
Barbara, what prompted you to devote your life to helping others, particularly the homeless? What advice can you give others who hope to embody that philanthropic spirit?
Barbara: My family descended from immigrants who lived in small farming communities where survival was dependent upon reaching out and supporting one another as well as those still in the "old country." My parents passed the value of helping others to me by involving me in many concerns both internationally and locally as I was growing up. As an adult, it was only natural to seek ways in which I might make a difference, even if seemingly small. I soon found myself working with homeless people, people confronting serious mental health concerns, Vietnam veterans, and people confronting longstanding substance abuse issues. Why this particular group of people......because I couldn't not.
If I were to offer advice to others who hope to embody this spirit of giving, I would encourage you to find your passion, the thing or people for whom you "couldn't not" and become involved. Always trust your "gut" to guide you; it is rarely wrong. After taking the time to learn the issues and listen to the stories of those whom you serve, chart your path acknowledging the skills and gifts you have to offer. Then offer them. The issues you confront may seem overwhelming and fearsome, but dare to move forward. Even failure is always an opportunity to learn. In a complex world, cultivate persistence and optimism.
Barbara, what have you learned about yourself through your years of service?
Barbara: Over the years of my service, I learned that I am not my sister/brother's keeper; I am my sister/brother's sister. Although we may look and present differently, the people I served and I were united in our common humanity. I learned to step outside my comfort zone and put my hesitation and fear aside to approach a group of people who were discounted and shunned. I learned to listen, to honor and to grow from those whose experiences were very different from my own. I learned to dare what seemed impossible. And I learned to celebrate the smallest of successes and accept failure as a temporary setback....not an easy lesson for an overachiever!
Cristina, how has your relationship with Barbara prompted you to give back to your community?
Cristina: Barbara was a catalyst for inspiration. Because of her career choice, from earning her master’s degree in social work to volunteering and serving as the director of homeless shelters in Denver, Portland and Tucson, I wanted to do more and improve my connections to the people around me. It has been an eye-opening experience when giving more of myself. Through a grassroots effort with like-minded individuals at my workplace, I have helped, and continue to help, elevate the personal stories of those serving others or being served. In the last year, I have used photography to help volunteers see themselves in the beauty of the moment and (with much hope) to help inspire others to act. I find it rewarding to help others match their passions to unfulfilled needs as I continue to broaden my understanding of our community's needs.
Cristina, what do you hope future generations will take away from your story?
Cristina: Recognize that the small act of offering respect and kindness can have such a profound impact on someone you may otherwise have no relationship to. Strive to make one meaningful connection this year, this month, or this week, and I suspect your network 'for good' will continue to grow.
Barbara and Cristina, what was the best or more surprising part of your experience recording your story?
Barbara: I was privileged to share this experience with my daughter-in-law, a bright and caring woman for whom I have such respect. I had no idea that she was impacted by my professional experiences. I am blessed that, once again, the legacy of learning and giving has been passed forward.
Cristina: Barbara has many inspirational stories to share about serving others, but I was unaware that her parents actively involved Barbara and her sisters when they were younger to serve their community. My family upbringing may have followed different cultural traditions than Barbara’s experience, but we are drawn closer together by sharing the belief that an act of giving is better than receiving.
Click here to listen to Barbara talk with Cristina about the inspiration to serve others.
Get Involved with the Visitor Center
- Join us at the Visitor Center to explore our full library of stories about making a difference. Stay tuned throughout the year as we publish new stories on our Facebook page each month.
- Follow the Visitor Center on Facebook and Twitter, and inspire your community by sharing your own story of making of difference using the #InspirationStory hashtag.