Student volunteer involved for personal reasons

William Channell and William Channell

As sophomore Rayia Gaddy ripped up carpeting from a flight of stairs in the Padua Center in Toledo on Monday, she was likely enjoying the sense of community as much as the process.

“[It’s] the one time that everyone puts aside their differences,” Gaddy said, as she reflected on her participation in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. “What other time are you gonna get out of bed at 8 o’clock in the morning just to do service?”

Gaddy, who is participating in the day of service for the first time this year, enjoys the sense of community the day demonstrates.

“In high school, I used to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and other projects through the city,” Gaddy said. “This kind of reminds me of when I was in Detroit — working, tearing up stuff, helping renovate. So this is fun.”

Her service project on Monday was at the Padua Center, a house in Toledo that relies heavily on volunteer work to maintain operations.

Gaddy was one of about 800 student volunteers participating on Monday, which she said is part of what makes the day great.

“It’s not necessarily the projects, but the people,” She said. “It’s just like getting to know people and what they get out of it,”

Though she was only one of thousands of volunteers, her story isn’t like many others. Gaddy volunteers because she was brought up that way. Her parents instilled in their children from a young age a strong sense of service.

“My parents would take me and my siblings out and had us do stuff, even on holidays,” Gaddy said. “We went to go feed the homeless … I’m just used to it.”

What makes Gaddy’s story different, however, isn’t just her history of service, but the tragedy she’s overcome. In 2008, her brother was murdered when he was mistaken for someone else and gunned down on the freeway three weeks before she turned 15.

“I guess I kind of went through a depression phase,” Gaddy said. “I didn’t really want to do anything for my birthday because I was like, ‘whatever.’”

Three weeks later, on her birthday, one of Gaddy’s friends encouraged her to attend a program at her school called buildOn, a program that aims to decrease illiteracy and poverty through service. On that day, she was sent to a homeless shelter to serve meals to veterans, who she said made her see her situation in a different light.

“They told me their perspectives and their stories; a lot of them lost friends in war,” Gaddy said. “It wasn’t a pity talk, it was more of, ‘this happened, but what are you going to do about it?’”

What Gaddy did was move forward, keeping her brother’s memory close.

“He was just a big inspiration,” she said. “He was a volunteer. It’s because of him I do the stuff I do now. I went to Nicaragua to help build a school that’s actually named after him.”

The Padua Center is overseen by Sister Virginia Welsh, who said some of their logistical positions are often held by volunteers.

“We have some community volunteers,” Welsh said. “One’s a volunteer receptionist, one handles our database.”

The Padua Center, named after the Saint Anthony of Padua Church next door, is a great opportunity to allow Gaddy to serve because it displays an emphasis on education and social work. Terry Crosby, who oversees operations at the house, said it takes a special kind of person to volunteer on a government holiday.

“It would be nice to be home with the family like everyone else,” Crosby said. “But we serve a purpose.”

Gaddy’s volunteering has earned her recognition, including an appearance on the Today Show, but that isn’t why she serves.

“Honestly, this is fun,” Gaddy said. “To get out, make new friends, volunteer. It’s a wonderful experience.”