As National Volunteer Appreciation Week draws to a close, Carson Kekoa Dipo is appreciative of the opportunity to volunteer.
Last year Carson was taking a whopping 25 credits a quarter at Eastern Washington University, where he is working on a Communications degree. He also waits tables to pay the bills – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Carson is a modest person (so he’d never tell you so) but on most Saturdays-rain or shine-you can find him helping a friend or neighbor. You might see him taking a disabled neighbor to a movie or shoveling snow for an elderly couple across the street. Whether he’s helping a widow from the Spokane Stake keep her yard looking nice or loading boxes as he helps a family move-it’s all in a day’s work for this Ferris High School graduate.
For Carson, service is an integral part of being LDS. He has held many Church leadership positions, served a full-time mission to Sacramento and in the process of earning his Eagle Scout, completed dozens of service projects in his teenage years, including a book collection for kids that he coordinated himself.
Carson Kekoa Dipo grew up in the Lincoln Heights Ward of the Spokane Stake. Last year, he volunteered at Flaherty House, a transitional home facilitated by Volunteers of America.
Carson is the kind of guy who is never off-duty from doing good. “There’s always something good to do,” he says when asked what he does when he’s not volunteering.
Maybe that’s why Carson was drawn to a class called “Communication, Community and Citizenship” at EWU. The course, designed by Professor Heather Robinson, is intended to help students develop critical thinking skills while finding a public voice that will help them advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
“The class explores how we perceive other people in our community,” explains Carson. “It’s about how we can work positively with marginalized populations by using our communication skills to give them a voice.”
In the past, Professor Robinson had trouble finding good service learning opportunities for male students. When she heard about Flaherty House-where formerly homeless young men (ages 18-21) reside in a house near Gonzaga University as they prepare to live successfully on their own-it seemed like the perfect fit. The program is facilitated by the local branch of Volunteers of America.
Carson first reported to Flaherty House on a cold winter afternoon. He soon learned that simply providing a listening ear could make a world of difference.
“It didn’t take long to see that they just want to be heard,” he said. “Even if it’s just talking about a job they applied for or a school application they filled out. They need people to share these positive things with.”
In the following weeks and months, Carson spent a lot of time at Flaherty House. In fact, he spent far more time than the 20 hours required for the class. On one of the first warm days of the year, he helped residents clean up the Flaherty House yard. From cooking lessons to conversations about college, Carson became a friend and an example.
“I’ve met many former clients who have successfully gone through the program and now live independently on their own,” Carson said. “It’s good to see the former clients that have benefited from Flaherty’s. You can see that the program works.”
Carson said the experience also changed his perspective about those without place to call home.
“My view before was that homeless youth were homeless just because they didn’t want to live by their parents’ rules, they didn’t want a job, or they were just being lazy,” says Carson. “Looking back, I can see how inaccurate my perception of street youth really was before I volunteered at Flaherty House.”
While Flaherty House continues to provide valuable support and guidance, Carson said the area could use more local resources for those in need.
“It’s sad to see the stacks and stacks of applications of clients looking to get into the Flaherty House program. It shows how unaware our society is on the need that exists for this demographic since there is no shortage of clients looking to get in and only one Flaherty House in the area,” says Carson. “Really, the hardest part of volunteering here is when I have to leave. It pulls at my heart to see some of the clients struggling with depression or the uncertainty of what comes next in life after Flaherty’s or lacking family support.”
Carson grew up in the Lincoln Heights Ward of the Spokane Stake and learned, early on, that the rewards of service are worth the effort. As a deacon, he visited a local widow on a Saturday with his father and brother to rake leaves. The woman passed away only three months later.
“It was only two hours of work on a Saturday, but I could see it had an impact,” Carson said.
Asked about the challenge of serving a mission, Carson said the experience was less of a sacrifice than a blessing.
“They talk about tithing two years of your life when you serve a mission, but it’s really something that benefits you,” he said.
Carson is currently working for Northwest Farm Credit, helping farmers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho secure their living in spite of challenges from weather, feed prices and fluctuating commodity rates. He will wrap up his degree soon and hopes to return to Flaherty House as a volunteer. In the meantime, he continues to serve in the Spokane YSA Ward and donate time to local causes like Second Harvest Food Bank.
As far as the attention surrounding National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Carson said “knowing you are helping someone” is appreciation enough.
“There’s no shortage of service projects both inside and outside the Church,” he said. “Both are our responsibility. Even if you go into it with a bad attitude, you’re eventually going to get a ton out of it. I just think we should be helping other people regardless of their faith – I think that’s the most Christlike way to approach it.”
Want to help?
To learn about volunteer opportunities at Flaherty House, Crosswalk Teen Shelter and other programs through Volunteers of America, call 509-624-2378 or visit www.voaspokane.org. For additional opportunities, see this week’s rendition of the Health and Help Bulletin or the Community Cupboard section under the banner on the home page.