I can still remember the elation in King David’s brown eyes. His nervous grip on my shoulder as I walked us further out to greet the incoming tide.
This was the summer of 2008. My companion—a precocious 5-year-old pupil from a small orphanage housing a couple dozen kids ranging in age from 4 to 16-years-old—was clinging to me as I accompanied him on his very first dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
I’d come to the country roughly four weeks prior to work at an orphanage in a little dirt road and shanty-clad village adjacent to the city of Accra, Ghana’s capital city. Though I was vaguely familiar with West Africa (specifically from its inclusion in Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer), the children at the orphanage had never been to the beach, much less been for a body surf, even though the ocean was just a few miles from their neighborhood. So one day, as we looked for things to do with our dozen or so charges, my fellow volunteer and I asked a local van driver to take us to Labadi Beach (the actual beach that Robert August and Mike Hynson surf in the movie).
King David (and yes, that was his given name, as the majority of the children in similar God-fearing regions have names ripped straight from the Old and New Testaments) and the rest of the group had such a blast that we returned once a week for the remainder of my time there. The impact these trips had on the lives of these kids was likely, in state of fact, minimal. But I do imagine some of them will remember that experience for the rest of their lives.
I share this story not in search of an atta-boy, but because taken as a whole, my time volunteering in Ghana represents one of the most formative experiences of my life. On a personal note, at the time, my father was sick—battling alcoholism and depression—and the economy was shot (and with it, my outlook on future job prospects). I was struggling to find direction during my final year of college. I had to get out. I had to do something.
I was the reminded of those feelings of helplessness—the lack of control—that inspired me to just do something, as we put together this issue, our first ever nonprofit-centric one, The Do Good Issue. My experience in Ghana was my first introduction to what is definitely a well-worn cliché—but certainly a truism: That a helping hand often does as much for the well-being of the person lending it.
Here in Northeast Florida, there is much work to be done and no shortage of organizations taking on that work. From poverty and homelessness to mental health and addiction to veterans affairs, all the issues of concern in large metropolitan areas around the country are issues here, as well. Our Do Good Issue seeks to motivate our readership to be the change they wish to see in the Northeast Florida. From contributor Josué Cruz’s profile of environmental lawyer John November to Amber Lake’s Do Good Spotlight on Lutheran Social Services mission work welcoming immigrants to the area, to Arts and Music scribe Dan Brown’s look at the art and activism of Tony Rodrigues, the stories in this issue shine a light on the people and organizations working on the front lines, and also provides readers with resources to engage with these initiatives in tangible ways.
With the help of the folks at The United Way of Northeast Florida, who connected us to the volunteers and organizations featured in our Do Good Spotlight section, as well as our many media partners whose own good works are highlighted in our Do Good Guide, we aimed to show we learned that although there is much work to be done, there are many wonderful people doing their best to make a difference out there.
So do some good. Because, at the end of the day, it really does feel good.