BY MICHAEL BERLUCCHI
Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” My experiences in volunteerism and civic engagement inform me that this statement is true, but it took time for me to understand the real meaning of the concept.
Community service began for me when I returned to Virginia Beach as an adult after living in other cities for college and after graduation. As a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community growing up in Virginia Beach, I was uneasy about my future here.
There were few examples of LGBT people in positions of influence in our city, and the general posture toward the LGBT community was not as friendly as it is today. I wanted to move to a place where I could lead an authentic life and fulfill my potential, so I moved away after high school and did not consider returning until much later in life.
When I finally did return as an adult, I discovered that not much had changed for members of the LGBT community in Virginia Beach. There were still few LGBT people in positions of influence and little positive visibility for LGBT people, despite a rich history of community members making meaningful contributions to life in our region. That moment was my point of entry to volunteerism and civic engagement.
While attending the annual PrideFest event with friends, we felt compelled to get involved. The nonprofit organization that produces PrideFest, Hampton Roads Pride, had existed for over 20 years and had many notable successes, but there was a lot of room for improvement.
Shortly after attending our first PrideFest event, several friends and I became members and joined committees. Our goal for Hampton Roads Pride was simple – to help create a community where all people are respected, empowered and free to achieve their full potential as human beings no matter who they are or who they love.
We knew we could move our community closer to that goal by raising the organization’s profile, cultivating new partners and resources and professionalizing its operations. I served on various committees, joined the board of directors and eventually served two terms as president. I’m proud of what we achieved together, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about community service through my experiences there.
Volunteerism also led to personal and professional growth that I would have never otherwise realized. Only when I decided to invest in a cause that was greater than me was I able to fully access and employ my own talents.
I encountered people who cared about the same things I did and we formed lasting bonds around our shared values. We confronted great challenges together and experienced many victories and some defeats – all of which brought us closer together.
These relationships mean so much to me now and only developed because I decided to step out of my own comfort zone and invest time in community service. Volunteerism also led me to accept the role of community engagement manager at the Chrysler Museum of Art, one of our region’s preeminent cultural institutions, and to opportunities to serve our city more broadly through organizations such as the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, Teens with a Purpose and many others.
I still have much to learn and contribute, but I wish I had known about the benefits of volunteerism and community service earlier in life. I have discovered that, by serving the community, not only do you contribute to the greater good, but you enrich your own life in ways you could never predict.
Berlucchi is the community engagement manager at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. Berlucchi serves on numerous boards and commissions, including two terms as president of Hampton Roads Pride, the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, Teens with a Purpose and the Princess Anne County Confederate Statue Roundtable. Learn more about Hampton Roads Pride by visiting hamptonroadspride.org.
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