Why I Give My Time to Iona

April 21, 2021

Derrick Chin volunteers his time to Iona in many ways—by serving as a member of the Board of Directors and making Food Pantry Plus deliveries. In this interview, he explains how he got involved with Iona and why he feels it’s important to give his time, talent, and treasure back to older adults in the community.

When did you first get involved with Iona?

I started volunteering in 2017. I’ve done all the positions—I started with meal delivery, then two summers ago I did Friendly Visitors. That was a lot of fun! I was assigned to a resident around the corner at Seabury Heights. I would spend three or four hours at a time with an older woman in her 80s. She needed a lot of help with grocery shopping and fixing things around her apartment. Her son was her primary visitor, but he was often busy. Having a Friendly Visitor helped her a lot. I really enjoyed my time with her.

Then, a couple of summers ago, my son Matthew and I had a chance to volunteer at the Wellness & Arts Center. We also spent time helping to organize Iona’s Food Pantry Plus once a month. Now I fill in making food pantry deliveries when there’s an open spot.

Why is volunteering important to you?

I care about the plight of underprivileged and vulnerable populations, especially the elderly. My brothers cared for my parents before they passed away. I was taking my mom and dad to the doctor, so I got to see how tough it is for older people who don’t have family to care for them. We were lucky–my parents had seven kids. I started thinking about ways to help the elderly, and that’s how I got involved with Iona.

As a middle-aged person, I’ve started to discover what my purpose in life is. It all comes down to my mission statement: “To lessen the suffering of the people I am privileged to come into contact with.”

In addition to giving time, which is everyone’s most precious resource, I give my treasure to help out with all kinds of causes. My late wife taught me that. She was a very giving person and dedicated Christian, so I learned a lot from her on how to treat others as you would like to be treated.

When did you join Iona’s Board of Directors?

Executive Director Sally White tapped me for the opportunity in early 2019. When Sally asks, you say yes. (laughs) I started in April 2019 and have one more year left in my term.

Do you feel like you’re making a difference for older adults in Washington, DC?

On a street level, absolutely. You’re making people’s lives better, one small increment at a time. One of the side effects of our society is loneliness. You live by yourself. You don’t live with your children. It can be very lonely, and I see that. When I volunteer with Iona, I may be the only person a client sees all day. I talk to them, take time to listen to their stories, ask how they’re doing. It’s sad—I don’t want to be like that when I get older. I want to have a little community I can lean on.

Board service is more a long-term thing. We get involved in strategic planning, where we want to take Iona, and especially lately Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts for the organization. That effort is now underway. We have to be more proactive in our DEI mission—it has to be embedded across different levels of the organization, from frontline workers to the Executive Director, and we’re working hard on that. I just joined the Governance Committee to help with this. I know Iona staff are going through trainings as well.

Sometimes when you’re at work, you’re with colleagues of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, then at the end of the day you go home to your own community and cocoon. People might tolerate and be nice to each other, but that’s not enough. You really have to invest in knowing them as people and look out for each other’s best interests.

By Lauren Stephenson