The joys of volunteerism

Posted on May 26 2022

There are over 1 billion volunteers worldwide, whose efforts are equal to 109 million full-time workers, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S Department of Labor. Of that staggering number, 57% of informal volunteering around the world is done by women, says the bureau.

In the CNMI, it would be fair to that a good amount of the population is or has been a volunteer in some form or another, as there are close to or more than 70 non-profit organizations in the Commonwealth.

Three such community members—Joann Aquino, Dr. Bobby Cruz, and Eloise Rose Lopez—work full-time jobs and juggle various responsibilities in their lives, yet are also volunteers committed to finding joy and purpose in helping other people and the community.

Joann T. Aquino, second from right is shown being presented with the ESGR Guam-CNMI Volunteer of the Year Award for 2021 at the Hyatt Regency Guam.  (Contributed Photo)

Focus on others
Aquino, who is the current director of field operations at the Saipan Mayor’s Office, is also the community service director for the Rotary Club of Saipan and is the ombudsman for the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserves Guam-CNMI, or ESGR, where she briefs soldiers and their employers on the USERRA, or the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protect the civilian employment of active and reserve military personnel in the United States called to active duty.

At the Rotary, Aquino enjoys implementing fun activities that benefit the entire community such as the recent Easter Egg-Stravaganza and the Halloween Event that will now be signature events for the Rotary Club of Saipan.  

With all these different roles she plays in the community, Aquino is often asked how she manages to juggle the multiple projects she takes part in. She describes it as being “a different kind of busy…that improves my mental health and well-being.” 

Being involved with all these organizations, along with her family and personal life, and traveling quite often, Aquino said she does not necessarily have all the time, but has the heart to serve the community in other capacities. “It gives me a sense of personal growth and achievement when I can make a difference in our community,” she said.

Aquino’s efforts with the ESGR has not gone unnoticed. In fact, she was named the CNMI Volunteer of the Year for 2021 during an award presentation in Guam two weeks ago.

Aquino appeals to people who have not tried volunteering or are hesitant on where to start to just take the plunge. She said a Helen Keller quote that resonates with her is, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Along with this, she shares the Rotary’s motto, which is, “Service above self.” 

“We are not the focus, but rather caring for and serving others is the best way to live because it changes not only other people’s lives, but also our own,” added Aquino.

Dr. Bobby Cruz. (Contributed Photo)

Spirit of Inafa’ maolek
Cruz is another such avid volunteer. Currently the director of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning at the Public School System, Cruz is also the program committee chair for the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, among many other responsibilities.

Cruz said he has been volunteering since childhood and has carried that trait into adulthood. He participated in many clubs and community and church organizations that promoted service, from beach cleanups to walkathons, to peer tutoring, to volunteer leadership positions.

“I have always enjoyed being involved and collaborating with others to do good for the community. Volunteerism naturally became an important part of my core values, and it has remained into adulthood,” he said.

Cruz has served the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the Commonwealth Cancer Association, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Samaritan’s Purse, the Marianas Youth Professionals, Pride Marianas, Pride Marianas Youth, and the NMI Humanities Council, among other groups.  

When he volunteers for any of these causes and organizations, Cruz said he feels “a deep sense of humility and gratitude. My family and I don’t come from wealth, and at one point in time we were the benefactors of many wonderful life-giving organizations and received help during difficult times from people in our community. So, when I volunteer, it’s my way of paying it forward, using the privileges that I have now to help others.” 

Volunteering and community service have become part of Cruz’s identity, He said it gives him a sense of purpose, a sense of community, and an opportunity to give back. “It is also fun! It’s fun to meet new people and volunteer together. When you see the fruits of your labor having a positive impact on the lives of people in the community, it warms the spirit and gives you an unmatched feeling of fulfillment,” he added. 

In appealing for people to volunteer, Cruz points out that everyone has privileges and gifts that they enjoy, whether it is wealth, specialized knowledge and skill, or time to help with their hands. “Whatever your privilege is, consider using it to help others. Life is a journey filled with many obstacles, and at some point in time, we will all need help. So in the spirit of reciprocity, consider what you can contribute to our community, and give with the heart of inafa’ maolek, to do good,” he said. 

Eloise Lopez, second from right, is seen here with fellow volunteers for 500 Sails and Project HOPE. (Contributed Photo)

Young volunteer
Lopez embodies the idea that volunteering is also possible even among the young.

Lopez, 24, who just obtained her associate degree in Natural Resource Management from the Northern Marianas College, said her time at the college was not purely only about academics. She has served her fellow students and community through her role as student representative for the Associated Students of NMC. She is also an advocate for the environment, ocean conservation and stewardship through her participation in NMC’s Environmental Natural Resource Organization Club and Project H.O.P.E. She was also an active member and vice president through the NMC ENRO Club at the Friends of the Mariana Trench.

Lopez said that volunteering has always been her passion. She started volunteering when she was 10 years old. “I started going to the beach cleanups, started singing in the children’s and youth choir, started joining different organizations and that is where I found my passion for ocean conservation and why I gained my [degree]. …Helping others is what eases my soul to keep going. I feel like volunteering and just helping others is my way to show that I have done my deed and will continue to do so. …The connection from a variety of people is what I get from volunteering. That is where I learn how to see myself as a leader and become capable of handling relationships and responsibilities at the same time. I learned to seek skills or new opportunities by volunteering. With this passion I hold, I want to show other people, especially children, to do the same and find themselves in different areas of adventure!” 

Lopez appeals to the youth in the CNMI to volunteer in any cause or organization that interests them. “You may not get paid for the time you did but you will get something bigger out of every opportunity you partake in. Explore and do not settle for less. If you want to know more about yourself or know what you want to do for your career in the future, take a chance to volunteer and participate in as many events as you can. You might not know that volunteering in different types of events will lead you to an opportunity of a lifetime!” 

Lopez currently works full time at the Non-Communicable Diseases Program of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. as a Pacific Public Health Fellow and works part-time at Marianas High School as a high dosage tutor and a night time English teacher.

These three are only a small portion of the CNMI community that selflessly give their time to the various organizations, big or small, on Saipan. They embody the truth that the joys in volunteerism can be found anywhere, that making a difference in the community can be done not only through big donations. It can be found through the little things, through little time invested in an organization or cause, or just showing up to pick up trash at the beach or in your village, that the joy of volunteerism is boundless.

Leigh Gases
Leigh Gases is the youngest reporter of Saipan Tribune and primarily covers community related news, but she also handles the utilities, education, municipal, and veterans beats. Contact Leigh at
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