Employees give back what was given to them
“When I was a kid, a bicycle changed my life.”
That’s why Levi Allen, a technical grad student and intern at Sandia, decided to volunteer at the Free Bikes for Kidz NM event during Sandia Serves day.
While Levi said he wants to keep the full story behind that bicycle private, its impact was huge. “I just wanted to be a part of something that could do the same for someone else,” Levi said.
He helped clean and load 102 bicycles for kids in need, all donated by Sandians. He was one of 230 volunteers in Albuquerque and 30 in Livermore, California, who contributed their time and talents on Sept. 30.
Among them was one tiny volunteer, 6-year-old Lucas Kuca, whose parents Vanessa and Michal both work at Sandia.
“Lucas saves a portion of his weekly allowance for sharing,” Vanessa said. “We told him about the event, and he was excited to contribute. He almost had enough to purchase a new bike for another kid, but his one condition was that he wanted to buy a bike for a boy.”
Mom and dad pitched in the rest and volunteered their time. Of course, they brought along their son. “We had a hard time pulling him away,” Vanessa said. “He kept asking, ‘Can we clean another bike, please?’”
The family has made it their goal to volunteer regularly. Their lives today are very different from how they lived growing up,” Vanessa said.
“Michal’s parents immigrated to the U.S. when Michal was 3 years old, escaping communist rule in Poland. My parents immigrated from El Salvador, one of the poorest and most violent countries in Central America at the time,” she said. “Michal and I will never truly understand the sacrifices our parents made to provide a better life for us, so ensuring we give back is one way we hope to keep grounded and grateful as a family.”
There were many more personal stories to be heard around the city on Sandia Serves day.
Computer engineer Maria Swartz is new to Sandia. She chose to help prepare meals at the Ronald McDonald House.
“We have some family friends who have stayed at a Ronald McDonald House while their daughter was having heart surgery,” Maria said. “I know that having a place to stay with a hot meal can help take one element of stress away from families in similar situations.”
It turned out to be rewarding in more ways than one. “Being newer to New Mexico, I hadn’t cooked chile before. It was fun to learn how to prepare New Mexican cuisine and meet other Sandians,” Maria said.
The 11 community service projects in Albuquerque also included building ramps for New Mexicans who have mobility issues, helping with home improvement projects for low-income homeowners, staffing local food banks for the day, making blankets for non-profits, working in the garden at the Rio Grande Food Project, organizing clothing donations at Locker 505, building a shade structure at the transitional living center Saranam, and cleaning and repairing kennels at Animal Humane NM.
Two long-time co-workers took advantage of the opportunity to volunteer together, preparing food boxes at Roadrunner Food Bank.
“We could have been Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz,” joked Chrissy Casias, who laughed and smiled the whole day with her friend of 17 years, Jacque Ramirez. “I had a terrific time with my kind-hearted friend. It does take a village and an extra pair of hands makes a gigantic difference.”
In California, volunteers took part in five projects, including working in a community garden, sorting food and clothing donations at a non-profit, staffing a fundraising bocce ball tournament, baking and decorating birthday cakes for foster kids in the community and preparing hot meals at a soup kitchen.
“It was such a rewarding experience, so we already have signed up to serve warm meals for Thanksgiving,” said Nalini Menon, who brought her daughter and husband along.
It’s a feeling many of the volunteers share.
“I’m incredibly blessed to have the means to give back to my community and thankful for the opportunities to help those who are less fortunate than me,” Jacque said.
Vanessa Kuca talked about how much fun her family had.
“This is the first year we’ve set this goal for our family, and we’ve had a blast doing it thanks to the Sandia Serves Community,” she said. “It’s been really great to see Lucas enjoy it. We’re proud of him, but more importantly, we hope he is proud of himself.”