Compassion Week builds empathy through community service

STORY BY AVNI RAJAGOPAL, PHOTO COURTESY COMPASSION WEEK

Compassion Week, an annual event put on by the eponymous nonprofit, encourages local residents to volunteer in their communities with 150 service projects from Oct. 11 to Oct 17.  

Co-founder Jan McDaniel said Compassion Week offers a simple way for residents to contribute to and develop a deeper understanding of their community.

Through Compassion Week, individuals sign up to volunteer with local organizations that support those in need in a range of projects suitable for all ages: anything from working with homeless shelters to volunteering at resource centers for education and organizations fighting food insecurity. Other activities include creating teacher kits and helping with beautification programs.

According to McDaniel, volunteering causes people to understand others more, building empathy and a sense of gratitude.

“[Compassion Week is] all about getting people to learn more about the needs in the community, learn about the organizations that are serving those needs, and giving people an opportunity to have some hands-on experience,” McDaniel said.

Partaking in such experiences helps foster a sense of empathy and compassion towards those in need, said McDaniel. Although donating money is important, she believes allocating time and effort towards meeting those needs allows volunteers to connect more meaningfully with those who are different from them.

“It’s much easier for people to write checks and to donate money than it is to actually donate their time,” McDaniel said. “When you write a check, it’s important, and it’s good, and it’s critical, but it doesn’t create that kind of emotional connection.”

This connection described by McDaniel is what she hoped to bring to the community with the creation of Compassion Week nine years ago. After seeing how people suffered in her own community, McDaniel decided she wanted to be a part of the solution by not only volunteering herself, but encouraging others to volunteer.

Compassion Week started as an effort managed by the Los Altos United Methodist Church, but three years ago, it expanded with the goal of including more volunteers and organizations in their work. After receiving a grant from the Los Altos Community Foundation, the organization was able to reach out to communities of different faiths and expand their team. 

From there, the effort continued to grow, receiving grants, such as from Fremont Bank, which allowed Compassion Week to reach more organizations and diverse groups.

“Each year we tend to be able to do more projects and involve more faith communities, and more service groups that are out there,” McDaniel said. 

Compassion Week also funds each of their projects, ensuring that the volunteers and organizations they work with don’t need to contribute any money. Any equipment needed for an activity is purchased by Compassion Week’s own funds.

“We’re taking an hour of your time,” McDaniel said. “We’re not asking anything more.”

That small donation of time, with the reward of human connection and making a positive difference, is completely worth it to McDaniel.

“I felt very, very fortunate to have so much in my life,” McDaniel said. “And I knew that [giving back] really was important… and I wanted to help build that and make that happen for other people as well.”

Compassion Week is from Oct. 11 to Oct 17. You can sign up here.

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