The desire to help others has been part of Juana Altagracia-Mejia’s life for more than 30 years.
Mejia has been volunteering at our monthly Mobile Food Market at the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrence since it launched last summer, but her community activity began at a young age, back in her home country of the Dominican Republic.
When she was 26 years old, she was part of a volunteer team for a nonprofit called the Dermatological Institute of the Skin. Her job was to prepare bags of food for the patients and visit them in their homes.
“We created such an immense fraternity that these people saw us as if we were their doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, or their relatives,” Mejia says. “It was a wonderful experience.”
That drive to give back is what inspires her to volunteer with AgeSpan.
“It is my innate desire to help others, to continue acquiring and expanding knowledge so that I can share it with other people and thus together strengthen them and be part of the positive changes in our community,” she says. “Volunteering with AgeSpan makes me feel like I am part of the organization. It produces positive changes for me, it helps me create a relationship in the community, and it helps me create a bond of trust between all the volunteers.”
Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the celebration of older Americans. This year’s theme of Aging Unbound offers an opportunity to explore a wide range of aging experiences and promote the importance of enjoying independence and fulfillment by paving our own paths as we age.
Mejia, 60, has followed her own path from the Dominican Republic to Methuen. In addition to volunteering at AgeSpan, she also volunteers for Lawrence Community Works. She says she uses all the experiences and knowledge she has obtained in her life to help build the community she calls home.
“I think I’m making positive changes to the community because I can obtain more knowledge from others and at the same time, I can offer my knowledge and abilities to others, also it helps bring more encouragement, more courage, more will,” Mejia said. “We can connect with more people, spread respect to others, increase self-esteem and generosity amongst people and help the community become healthier, and all this contributes to their growth.”