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    Expressing Gratitude Through Actions, Not Words

    By Kaushik Roy

    For so many of us, preparing for the holiday season, and Thanksgiving in particular, provides us with an opportunity to pause and appreciate the numerous blessings for which we are grateful. Several days removed from the election, I am still basking in the glow of our tremendous victories. The re-election of President Obama, the huge strides for marriage equality, the notable increase of women who will serve in next year’s U.S. Senate and the elections of openly gay candidates like Tammy Baldwin and Mark Takano all illustrate huge victories for those of us striving for a more equal and diverse nation.

    As proud as we are of our successes, we must not forget how close we came to undoing decades of progress for civil rights and equality. The fact is there was too much at stake in this election—more than there should have been—and what this means is this year’s political progress is not a stopping point for us, but, rather, a launching pad to achieve more victories in the years to come.

    As our nation’s journey inches closer to equality and opportunity for all, what I am personally most grateful for is living and working in the city that so often leads the national conversation on how to be a more compassionate and inclusive society. As President Clinton articulated at this year’s Democratic National Convention, the choice we must all make, as individuals, communities and a country, is whether we want a society where we are all in it together, or whether we want a society where we are all on our own.

    I have the great privilege and honor of working at the Shanti Project, which is one of San Francisco’s oldest community-based nonprofits supporting people with HIV and cancer. In doing so, I am offered a glimpse into the heart of our community and the goodness that lies within.

    San Franciscans are not just aware of the difficulties and suffering faced by our neighbors, but we are willing to embrace their challenges as our own. When we see that our neighbors are sick or in pain, and it might be easier to look the other way, we do not. Instead we move towards our neighbors with open arms and open hearts. And there is no greater example of this than the tremendous spirit of volunteerism that thrives in San Francisco. So many wonderful organizations are able to fulfill their missions because people refuse to look away from those in need. They want to give of themselves for those who may not have anyone else. Whether it is volunteer caregivers at Shanti, chefs at Project Open Hand, or attorneys at AIDS Legal Referral Panel, San Francisco’s safety net is formed by the good will, compassion and empathy of our citizens.

    Time and time again, San Francisco has demonstrated, that while many may talk about the value of being there for the most vulnerable or marginalized, we actually show up. The greatest example of this is from the 1980’s when the “San Francisco Model” was born as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Many communities around the country and world later adopted this model. Today’s new wave of challenges, created by the decreasing funds available for a greater number of people in need, call on us, as both a city and country, to broaden and strengthen that safety net of compassion and empathy.

    Again, I believe the power of volunteerism and San Francisco’s spirit of service can ensure that we continue to nourish each other and ourselves. One of the most life-changing moments for me was when I decided I wanted to volunteer, and I showed up for a Shanti volunteer caregiver training in 2004. That was my introduction to San Francisco’s incredible community, comprised of people from many diverse backgrounds, all coming together by their common desire to be of service to others. Each of us has a tremendous capacity to provide compassion and love to one another. If you have ever thought about volunteering, I would encourage you to consider doing so now. We are lucky to be in a community where so many causes are represented. Find one that resonates with your heart and follow that path. If you can, you may find that you are the one who gets the most from your volunteer experience.

    Volunteering is also the perfect way to humbly show our gratitude for the good things that have happened in our lives. President Kennedy once noted, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” And I want to thank all of you for creating a community, which does just that. On behalf of everyone at the Bay Times, I hope you and your loved ones enjoy a Thanksgiving and holiday season full of peace, laughter and gratitude.

    Kaushik Roy has served as the Executive Director of the Shanti Project in San Francisco since 2008. He can be reached at kroy@shanti.org.