The OCP Blog

Featured Volunteer of the Month: Paula Cortijo

“Tao changes very quickly. Life’s circumstances shift so suddenly that they leave you breathless. Bitter feelings can arise in seconds. Great serenity can just as easily come in a moment. Life changes, and we must be just as quick to change too.”  -Deng Ming-Dao

Like many OCP community members, our featured volunteer of the month, Ms. Paola Cortijo, has faced adverse experiences. Originally from Puerto Rico, Ms. Cortijo moved to Harrisonburg in mid-August 2017, driven by unstable living conditions and hope for a better life for herself and her grandchildren. “I am used to being around many people, the ones who understand me and can relate to my everyday needs… Being in a new place where I did not know anybody or speak the same language as everybody was all new to me,” Ms. Cortijo shared. When she first walked into Our Community Place, her first impression was that there were way too many different people in one small place. She then wondered if those community members were there for the same reason as she was! After just three days, her questions were answered. “It was a special place created for individuals such as myself” – people who have gone through adverse experiences – to re-friend the body and reclaim self-worth.

At times we find ourselves vulnerable and feel out of control of the outcomes of our adverse experiences. Things sometimes fall apart. Instead of looking at our trials and tribulations as taboo, at OCP, we encourage every individual who walks into ours doors to appreciate the unfolding present moment. In this place full of love, compassion, restoration, healing, and fun, Ms. Paola Cortijo re-opened her eyes. She could appreciate the little things in life. Ms. Paola Cortijo said she has found a new family and enjoys volunteering in the kitchen every day, especially at our Friday Lunch Restaurant. She enjoys OCP’s weekly open African Drumming Circle every Wednesday from 1:00 – 2:30 PM. “The sounds and the rhythms remind me of the ambiance of my home. Words cannot explain how grateful I am to OCP.”

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico hard. I asked Ms. Paola Cortijo if she had news of her relatives. She paused and quietly said that she only knows of her grandchildren’s’ whereabouts at the moment.

We hope that our community reflects the various identities that each and every community member holds within them. We hope that every individual who walks into OCP finds a place they can call home. A place where the energy can address the pains that we all feel daily.

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

– Mary Oliver- from IN BLACKWATER WOODS.

Leons Kabongo

Programming & Activities Coordinator