By Diane Holloway
From a shy middle school kid to a self-assured young woman now heading for Columbia University, MeiMei Graber, 18, has spent a half-dozen summers as a Trinity Center volunteer through the National Charity League’s mother-daughter program. The NCL duos sign up to volunteer at lots of different places, but MeiMei kept choosing us, and we became her favorite.
Early in the morning, when most of her friends were sleeping late, she would arrive with mom Julie (and often with little sister Jing, now 15) ready to prepare and serve breakfast in our kitchen. She was eager and willing but understandably unsure at first about how this new experience would unfold. But she never backed away and always smiled a big “good morning” as the center filled with hungry, often weary neighbors.
“You guys do such a wonderful job of teaching volunteers how to care for the neighbors,” MeiMei said recently. “As time went on, we got more comfortable, and you helped us take more steps. It was so wonderful that we wanted to help in different ways. My favorite thing is interacting with people face-to-face, recognizing people and saying hello. That interacting taught me how to listen to people and ended up inspiring my senior thesis.”
A recent graduate of Regents High School, MeiMei titled her thesis “Homeless Is Where the Heart Is.” Besides her own hands-on experience at Trinity Center, she researched her topic by interviewing our Operations Coordinator, Christian Rodriguez.
“It was interesting to hear his perspective on the issue of homelessness — what’s working, what’s not, the mission of Trinity Center and how that fits into those efforts,” she says. “What I took away from the conversation is most people don’t talk to neighbors.”
Empathy, compassion and helping people have always been close to MeiMei’s heart, but she couldn’t quite verbalize why the neighbors at Trinity Center were so close to her heart — until she began writing her college applications. The summer after her junior year, she visited an orphanage in China and discovered why her experiences with the neighbors were so important to her.
“Because of my history with adoption, I am convinced that everybody should have a home — or at least a safe place where they are recognized and loved,” she says. “I want to be part of a group that can create that space.”
MeiMei received an NCL award for the most cumulative volunteer hours, most of them spent with us, and she has generously donated the cash prize to Trinity Center. Her six years of cheerful service was more than enough, but we are also deeply grateful for this donation. We will use it wisely and be inspired by her continued commitment.