Tzu Chi Seattle Volunteers Deliver Warmth to NewHolly Learning Center

Northwest  |  December 29, 2021
As winter approaches in 2021, Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers search for warm coats to be given to people recently released from prison who are currently transitioning to their families and community. Volunteers additionally present Christmas cakes, candy canes, and handmade cards for the event. Photo/Tzu Chi Volunteer

Written by Hongwan Chang, Yufeng Wang, & Xinqian Zheng
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Pheel Wang & Adriana DiBenedetto

As winter approached and 2021 was nearing its end, Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers continued to provide their care and warmth amidst chilly temperatures. On December 20, in the rehabilitation classroom of South Seattle College’s NewHolly Learning Center, volunteers were actively preparing hats, scarves, coats, sleeping bags, and socks, in addition to disinfectant wipes and protective masks. These special care packages were to be presented to people recently released from prison who are currently transitioning to their families and community.   

Sending Warmth in Snowy Weather

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated enduring impacts with wide-ranging effects for individuals and families worldwide. The persisting challenges that arose from the pandemic have made acquiring the essentials one needs and deserves all the more difficult for low-income families and individuals. In such times — and beyond — compassion-focused assistance is especially vital, and plays a powerful role on the journey forward. 

Although Jing Si writing and watercolor courses in Seattle had to be paused due to health precautions amid the pandemic, volunteers did not cease their outreach and support missions. Tzu Chi continued to provide necessities to people recently released from prison that helped meet their immediate needs. 

When the temperature began its gradual drop, the instructor of Tzu Chi’s re-entry program, Joseph Garcia, reached out and quickly began to prepare.

It was cold on the morning of the distribution, and it had begun to snow. It was the first snowfall that winter in Seattle, and Tzu Chi’s local Service Center looked as beautiful as a postcard. They’d carefully packed up the supplies that day and drove them to the NewHolly Learning Center, a Chinese idiom coming to mind about sending charcoal in snowy weather. And indeed, their timely love would help community residents stay warm.

“Through a lot of time, hard work, and dedication, we stand here today to reach out to the community, connect with the world through love, and more importantly, grow in warmth, gratitude, love, and care.” Mr. Garcia has devoted himself to assisting people who were formerly incarcerated for over 53 years. Through his collaborative efforts with Tzu Chi, he found that he shares the same philosophy with volunteers, who he referred to as “angels in blue.”

Doing bad things doesn’t mean they are bad people; this is the belief that Tzu Chi adheres to day in and day out. Tzu Chi volunteers see people, living people, who need love, kindness, and care. No one understands this better than Tzu Chi volunteers.

Joseph Garcia, Rehabilitation Instructor
Supplies are organized in classrooms for distribution. Photo/Tzu Chi Volunteer
Tzu Chi youth volunteers assist in the distribution. Photo/Tzu Chi Volunteer

Michael Floris ended his 20-year sentence in April of 2021. That’s when he met Mr. Garcia and Tzu Chi volunteers at South Seattle College.

In my world, compassion and kindness had never existed. But the care and love given by Tzu Chi volunteers and the Rehabilitation Program really surprised me.

Michael Floris

Michael was not present to receive supplies but to help distribute them at the event. Michael said that the experience of assisting others has helped him become more flexible, and he felt filled with gratitude. “I think the most important thing is that what we give is not “help,” but “support.” Our mission is to support people so that they can gradually build up their self-confidence through being given a channel for their voice and finding a foothold. This is what Tzu Chi volunteers and Mr. Garcia have always been doing and have brought to me.”

Now, Michael has also become a counseling team member at the NewHolly Learning Center. Upholding the Tzu Chi spirit, he provides unconditional love and support that empowers people to move forward with their own strength.

A Gentle Shift in Perspective

George Mitchell was introduced to Buddhism while incarcerated and met Tzu Chi through a friend. After he adopted the Buddhist faith, he began to practice positive thinking techniques. He said that these spiritual teachings have inspired him to improve himself continuously. 

I really enjoyed the process of practicing Dharma. I have been doing this for a year and a half since I was released from prison. I realized that everything in the world is beautiful in its own way, and everything happens for a reason.

George Mitchell

For George, his mission now is to do his best to help others. “Just like the Tzu Chi volunteers have helped me,” George expressed. “I cherish my relationship with Tzu Chi very much. Encountering the volunteers is unforgettable. I am really happy to have the opportunity to share today and bring love into the community. I am really grateful to you all.”

Warm materials are given with love to warm hearts. Photo/Tzu Chi Volunteer

The winter distribution team was not only composed of Tzu Chi volunteers and the counseling team, but also a survivor of the Hanover Apartment fire that took place at the end of July in 2021, Bryan Alabara. Bryan has since joined the community of Tzu Chi volunteers to help others as well.  

After the event, Tzu Chi volunteers gathered with the counseling team at the NewHolly Learning Center to share their experiences. And, in the end, companionship can be the most powerful means of support. By joining hands, we can persevere onward with courage.

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