Meet our Volunteers: Ruth Pierce

2nd July 2024

Meet Ruth, an inspiring volunteer who recently spent 4 weeks in Lisbon, Portugal, working with the Homeless Support Project. Just three weeks into her retirement, she dove headfirst into this incredible experience. Ruth documented her journey on her YouTube channel, sharing her achievements, challenges, and all the lessons she learned along the way. You can watch all of her videos and testimonies here

Her story is a wonderful example of the impact that volunteering can have, both on the people you help and on yourself. In this interview, Ruth opens up about what motivated her, the highs and lows of her time in Lisbon, and how the experience has shaped her.


Tell us about yourself… Who are you? What’s your background? Professional and Personal projects?  

I retired 3 weeks before my volunteer work from a manager position at a slot machine manufacturer in Las Vegas, Nevada where I worked for over 18 years.  Because I want to continue to help people achieve their dreams, I am currently working on certification as a life coach with the Brave Thinking Institute.

Tell us about your volunteering experience with Impactrip? Where? How long? What project?

I volunteered at the homeless shelter in Lisbon, Portugal for 4 weeks.

How did you first become interested in volunteering?  

One of my sisters volunteered over 40 years ago at a an orphanage in Mexico.  She was an inspiration. Since that time, I only occasionally volunteered, with different organizations. Make-a-Wish, Goodie 2 Shoes, feeding the homeless all in Southern, Nevada and Red Andrews in Oklahoma, which was an annual event feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving. More recently, my youngest son had volunteered for six months in Hanoi, Vietnam. He was a true inspiration for me to really step into volunteer work at a larger scale.

How did you prepare for your volunteering experience? Were you scared? Excited? 

I was never scared, more excited about the experience and making a difference in someone else’s life. I knew it was important for me, for my own personal growth, as well.

Was this your first volunteer experience? 

As I mentioned, on this scale, yes. It is very different than providing a few hours a month volunteering than to immerse yourself into the culture and lives of other people or situations, depending on what volunteer work you choose.

How did you feel as a volunteer?   

My goal was to stay present in the moment, be helpful, provide whatever was needed of me at the center. At times, I felt very useful, and other times, I wasn’t sure I was doing anything impactful.  The thing about volunteering, as it is in life, you never know who or how you might impact someone else’s life in every interaction or moment. So it is important to remember to be kind. I don’t know if it is the answer to all of life’s issues.  For me, it is my compass.  I know if I am kind, at the end of each day, I have accomplished something.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of your volunteer work?  

The most rewarding aspects were the interactions with the people at the center. Especially the cooking with them.  We made many different things from pancakes, nachos, Quesadillas, pretzels to orange scones.  That is when I really felt connected despite the language barrier. And I saw them light up, with participating and seeing their individual knowledge and strengths and their own kindness in helping me, this foreigner who was trying to make a difference.

Can you describe a particularly memorable or impactful volunteering experience?  

Yes, the last day, after really not knowing if I had made an impact, as I helped instruct them how to make the scones, each person helped, in a way it is hard to describe. The language barrier seemed to fall away. Everyone got involved, had a task to do, including washing the dishes, and came together to create the most delicious scones I have ever tasted.  The staff told me they saw how everyone there really enjoyed the cooking experiences. It wasn’t something they got to do very often. It reminded me that people enjoy helping other people. Whatever their experiences. I see children light up when helping other children or adults and I saw it at the center. People who do not have a lot in life, who came alive when helping each other and in helping me. It was really wonderful!

On the other side, what challenges have you faced as a volunteer, and how did you overcome them? 

The challenges I experienced are about perception. On one hand, I could say the physical aspect of traveling to and from the location was grueling and tough on me with approximately a 90 minute commute each way and at the same time, I loved it. I walked over 108 miles in those 4 weeks, and climbed thousands of steps. I experienced life on trains, subways and buses that I would never had experienced before. What I was doing was nothing compared to being homeless and,  for some, without family. The other challenge, which was also about perception, was getting out of my own way. Our minds tend to create stories about what is or isn’t happening. There were a couple of times I thought about changing volunteer places, feeling I wasn’t making an impact where I was And I am so glad I didn’t,  because that last day showed me that I had made a difference and I completed what I had gone there to do.

In what ways do you feel you've grown personally and emotionally because of your volunteer activities? 

I am stronger than I gave myself credit for, both physically and emotionally. I was more present in my life and enjoying each day for what it had to offer versus trying to fill it with more. My first priority was to be there as a volunteer and that is what I did. I never waivered from that purpose.

Any advice for everyone that is considering volunteering? 

Yes, if you are going to volunteer, make that your first priority. You will get the most out of the experience. Sightseeing and traveling within the country you are volunteering in should be secondary. Communicate with your coordinators, and be realistic about why you are there to volunteer. Regardless of whether you think you are making an impact or not, if you are present with kindness, you can’t go wrong.


Now that this volunteer experience is over, how do you see volunteering continuing to be a part of your life moving forward?  

I see volunteering as a regular part of my life. It is a great way to stay centered as a human being and not get too full of ourselves.

Are there any new projects in your future?  

Yes, getting certified as a life coach is my first priority. That is my focus for next several months and finding a way to give back and volunteer in more ways on a regular basis.