Photo courtesy of Chris Silva

In this week’s Community Chest, City on a Hill Press sat down with Chris Silva, a third-year biology student at UCSC and the director of the Student Volunteer Center. Among his many past volunteer positions, Silva has worked for his hometown’s recreation department, Democratic club and high school rotary club. He has also worked with a non-profit organization in downtown Santa Cruz that provides free medical and legal services to low-income families around the area, as well as Global Medical Brigades, which provides free medical and dental services abroad to underprivileged people in Latin American countries.

CHP: When did you first start volunteering?

Silva: Back in high school, my dad
encouraged me to check it out. I used to work for my city as a day camp counselor and then I got involved with the Democratic club and the rotary club, so it’s kind of where I got my start. Originally he wanted me to get involved to diversify myself for college, but then it [turned] into, “Hey, I kind of like doing this.” … I think meeting different people and being able to communicate and have interesting conversations with people is crucial.

CHP: What was the most rewarding experience you’ve had?

Silva: I go to Central America every year through Global Medical Brigade — we do medical and dental volunteering. My dad is a dentist at UCSF and we go to a remote visit and set up shop at different stations where people can be checked out. There’s intake, a waiting room for small children, OBGYN and patient-doctor consultation. There’s also another station for dental cleaning and a pharmacy. We fundraise during the year through various fundraisers like Nite Owl [Cookies] or See’s Candies. I liked my second year [in Honduras] because I knew how the protocols went, so I was able to help other people with their tasks. It’s kind of scary being thrown in a station, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

CHP: Why do you think volunteering is important?

Silva: I think most people aren’t fortunate [enough] to have an able body, whether they’re sick or they’re incapable of taking care of themselves. The fact that I’m able to do this — I think I should give back. It makes me feel really good, really productive. It’s a great outlet for when you’re studying and you’re stressed out. It just makes you feel good.

CHP: Is there a difference between volunteering and a job?

Silva: Volunteering is a job. And a job, to me, is to have responsibilities: You’re held accountable for completing certain tasks on time and conducting yourself in a certain professional manner. I guess the distinction is that with a job, you’re doing it because you want to get paid and you’re told to do so. Volunteerism, to me, is an outlet, like playing baseball or playing guitar. You do it because you like to.

CHP: What do you get out of volunteering?

Silva: Just knowing that I can put a smile on somebody’s face because I can. I think every time that I’m able to help somebody or they acknowledge that I will be able to help them in some way, it kind of reminds me of my mom. I remember the team of doctors that were responsible for performing the procedures on her and just how grateful I was to them, because they’re able-bodied surgeons. They’re professionals, they know what to do, and I was just extremely grateful for that. It just seems like they never ask for anything in return. The fact that they saved my mom, that was huge to me.