Learning English one volunteer experience at a time

Provided photoAngelo Ourives stands with rows of backpacks during the United Way of Southwest Michigan’s School Supply Spectacular.

ST. JOSEPH — When Angelo Ourives moved to St. Joseph three years ago, he knew very little English.

His spouse was transferred from Whirlpool Brazil to Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, and he was working from home.

“So I decided to look for my community, and see how I could help them,” he said in a recent email. “I could help my community, and they could help me with my English, because my first language is Portuguese.”

He wandered into the United Way of Southwest Michigan (UWSM) offices one day and has been volunteering through them ever since – all while improving his English skills.

“My English still it’s not so good, it was worse than now, but I think I’m doing a good job,” he said.

Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Alexandra Newman chatted with Ourives recently via email while he spent some time in Brazil to see what he’s done as a volunteer and why he keeps going back.

Tell me about your volunteer experience with the United Way.

Equestrian Therapeutic Center in Watervliet, where I can help children with special needs and work with horses (which I love), I got so involved (there) that I decided, once a week in the morning, to work with chores in the barn, feed the horses, put them out and clean the stalls. That is amazing.

There are other favorite volunteer experiences with UWSM, such as: mobile food truck, where I help distribute food to people in need, and it’s very gratifying to see the smile on their faces. Another is “Rake a Difference – A Day of Action for Seniors,” and School Supply Spectacular. It’s very important to take care of our seniors and help our kids with their education, because they are the future. Education must be the basis of a nation.

I also volunteer through UWSM at The Pokagon Fund in New Buffalo, where I can work with social media, events and marketing, which is my professional background.

Why do you choose to give your time helping others?

One of the many reasons I decided to volunteer and become deeply involved in volunteering is because, at this point in my life, I should give back a small portion of everything I have received in my life. Life has been so good that I think it’s important for me to help others who need it. So, for me, it is a pleasure to volunteer on several projects and receive a lot of feedback. I think all this has helped me with my goal of improving my English, and makes me feel better.

What keeps you going back to volunteer?

Seeing the smile of people who are receiving some help at that moment. It’s gratifying, and that is the fuel that moves me to being a volunteer.

What would you say to someone who is maybe considering volunteering?

In my opinion, the world it’s getting selfish, and we need to think in the collective.

Maybe the first step could be helping your community, because it’s very easy to just complain and stay in your comfort zone. Paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

What do you do in your free time when you’re not volunteering?

In my free time, I like traveling. Almost every weekend and holiday my spouse and I put the bikes in the car and we go on the road looking for some city that we still do not know.

When we are at home, we like to cook together and watch some series or go to the movies. We appreciate staying together in our free time.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman