Volunteer Team Leader Cindy Murray has served on a total of 22 service programs with Global Volunteers either as a team member or as a Volunteer Team Leader. Her first service program as a volunteer was in 1997 in Mississippi. Since then, she’s served on 21 additional service programs: in Costa Rica (twice), West Virginia, Florida, Poland, Minnesota (twice), Cuba (six times), and Montana (eight times). She’s led in Ciego de Ávila almost annually since 2015. She shares a bit of her experience with Global Volunteers here.
Cindy is originally from Syracuse, New York, but moved to the Midwest as a child. Growing up in a Jewish family where giving back and volunteering were just a part of their makeup, Cindy says, she would bring her guitar to the Sholom Home as a young teenager to entertain elder residents. She studied arts administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I have always wanted to change the world and am inspired when diverse groups of people join to enjoy and appreciate shared cultural experiences, even for a few hours in peace, together. For me, this symbolizes the human possibilities to be together in shared purpose and with mutual respect.”
After working in the arts in the Midwest and a short stint in New York City, she parlayed her interests into a career as a producer with the Walt Disney Company in Orlando. Building on her interest in organizational dynamics, Cindy later garnered a dual master’s degree in Human Resources Management & Development. She and her husband, Frank, volunteer locally and he has joined her on service programs in Montana. In Orlando, they worked with Hands on Orlando, which supports community and organization volunteer projects in conjunction with a host of central Florida’s non-profits. She has also volunteered with arts organizations and has been known to take work teams on local volunteer projects as team building experiences. Cindy and Frank recently relocated to North Carolina and Cindy started mentoring through Western North Carolina HR Association. Cindy has also served a mentor during virtual Hackathons organized by MIT Hacking Medicine and focused on democratizing healthcare.
What motivated you to serve with Global Volunteers and then become a team leader?
Global Volunteers was mentioned in an event calendar listing in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper and I had the good fortune of reading the announcement. A presentation was to be given by co-founder Bud Philbrook and as soon as I saw the words travel and volunteer together, two of my passions, I recognized a terrific opportunity and attended Bud’s information session. About a year later, I signed on to volunteer in Metcalfe, Mississippi, a town of 1400 African Americans. I remember vividly, during my late November flight across Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, the feeling of letting go. Releasing job titles, labels, and facades, and allowing myself to be open to and breathing into new possibilities for being of service, making friends, garnering different experiences, and gaining diverse perspectives.
Upon arrival in Metcalfe, I met the Global Volunteers team leader and other volunteers. We got to know one another and quickly bonded as a team. We were under the impression that we were to help local people in rehabbing and transitioning an old church into a community center. Prior to our arrival, the old church was to have been physically moved from one site to another. However, we learned that, due to consistent and heavy rains, the old church had not been moved, yet. Right away, I understood why flexibility is emphasized as a key characteristic of effective volunteers and teams. So, you might be asking yourself, what did our team do if we were unable to assist with the rehab? The town sheriff took us on a tour of a Jockey underwear plant, we helped put up the community holiday decorations, we were invited to a high school basketball game, and with the collaboration between the mayor, schools, and our team leader, we provided after school tutoring to students. I loved every minute of our experience, meeting people, laughing together, sharing stories, inspiring one another, appreciating the people of Metcalfe, and learning about the other volunteers. Curiosity drives me, and, in this setting, where I am stripped temporarily of whether I own a car and what brand I might drive, where I live and what kind of dwelling I might reside in, what job and title I may hold, whether I have a bank account and savings, who I may or may not be connected to, I feel truly alive and at the core of who I am as a human being. At the end of our service program in Mississippi, our team leader asked if I would be interested in serving as a volunteer team leader. Honored and intrigued, I said “yes”.
What do you enjoy about leading teams for Global Volunteers?
I love shepherding people through meaningful experiences. That has been my practice professionally as well as personally. Obviously, it is all interrelated and I don’t separate my life journey with too much rigidity. Additionally, I believe in Global Volunteers’ philosophy and mission and, frankly, wish everyone had the opportunity to experience their service programs.
What is one of your favorite parts of your role as team leader?
Seeing volunteers’ eyes opened is rewarding. This takes shape in many ways and it often requires hard work on my part around managing expectations. But I never mind the hard work, and doesn’t everything exceed expectations if you don’t have any to begin with?
Several times, I have encountered volunteers with a strong desire to change the way local people approach projects. I enjoy helping and guiding volunteers toward a better understanding around local people and communities needing to be self-sufficient after we are long gone. Helping them to see that we are a link in a long chain of serving others and local priorities are just that, local priorities. It is not our role nor our place to dictate how things should be accomplished and we can never fully know what it is like to live somewhere else, what the resources are, what is valued, and what is important. I love watching the light bulbs go off for volunteers. And typically, those that have struggled but have seen the light, so to speak, are the ones that I find myself giving the most tissues to when the program concludes, when we celebrate one another, and when we have to say our goodbyes to the local community.
“I enjoy helping and guiding volunteers toward a better understanding around local people and communities needing to be self-sufficient after we are long gone. It is not our role nor our place to dictate how things should be accomplished and we can never fully know what it is like to live somewhere else, what the resources are, what is valued, and what is important.”– Cindy Murray, Volunteer Team Leader
Why do you recommend a Global Volunteers service program?
Seeing the world, and yourself, from the other side, is hugely beneficial. It can strengthen your awareness, your empathy, your understanding of our greater world, and perhaps your purpose and place within this complex and beautiful place. Additionally, having the ability to travel to someplace other than your own backyard, to a community in which a relationship has already been established, allows you to see inside, unlike tourists can. The beauty of Global Volunteers experiences are that, typically, you get to see what might be called tourist sites, and you get a brief glimpse into everyday life in the community.
Global Volunteers’ immersive opportunities, even briefly, ensure volunteers will be engaged directly with local people. If you have ever traveled as a tourist and wished that you could connect with local people, more than a short tour, for instance, with a local guide, the Global Volunteers experience sort of blows up that model by enabling you to have quality time with local people. When people work together side by side, bonds form in unique ways – even when there is not a common language spoken. When two people lift a fence post together, they devise a plan, watch out for one another’s safety, work toward a common goal, and often times celebrate their combined effort by accompanying themselves in joyous shared laughter. And laughter is contagious.
Working together, opportunities open to learn from one another about community dynamics, culture, healthcare, economics, families, holidays, foods, and so much more. These are difficult to replicate simply when one travels as a tourist. And please don’t get me wrong. Being a tourist is wonderful. I have been one often, and I earned my living in the heart of the tourism industry for many years. I just believe if you have the resources, serving as a volunteer while “on the ground” in a community other than your own, enhances both your life experience and the lives of others in ways that are usually not possible from solely being a tourist.
“Global Volunteers’ immersive opportunities, even briefly, ensure volunteers will be engaged directly with local people. If you have ever traveled as a tourist and wished that you could connect with local people, more than a short tour, for instance, with a local guide, the Global Volunteers experience sort of blows up that model by enabling you to have quality time with local people.”– Cindy Murray, Volunteer Team Leader
What is your favorite place to serve and lead teams? If you can pick just one, of course.
There are redeeming things and wonderful people everywhere! If I had to pick just one, I guess I’d say that more recently, my favorite place to serve and lead has been Ciego de Ávila, Cuba. The people are incredible, resourceful, welcoming, and just plain fun. Much of their lives are outdoors and, as we walk quite a bit in Cuba, smiling and greeting people along the streets is pure joy. Additionally, as I lived in Florida for a number of years, including during my 2020 service program in Cuba, I always felt that by serving there, in a small way I was honoring my Cuban American friends and colleagues.
“When two people lift a fence post together, they devise a plan, watch out for one another’s safety, work toward a common goal, and often times celebrate their combined effort by accompanying themselves in joyous shared laughter. And laughter is contagious.”– Cindy Murray, Volunteer Team Leader
What can you say to people who are thinking about joining a service program for the first time?
Call me! Truly, it is hard to put into words as so much of it is experiential and emotional. So here goes – if you want to gift yourself in this short time on earth, join a service program. Take a chance! Be courageous! Put yourself out there! Step away from your computer! You will feel so alive, it will be like you are on a natural high! I imagine that most volunteers also serve in their home communities. That work is so vital, and I have done the same thing wherever I live. For me, taking myself out of my community enhances those experiences even more. You can reflect your Global Volunteers experience back into your local community. It’s a win, win, win! Also, volunteering alone is a terrific experience for your spirit and soul. At the same time, if you can serve with a friend, family member, partner, or a group that you are a part of, the experience is a force multiplier as you have created memories together which you can call upon forever. Imagine the stories you can tell and retell!
“Volunteering alone is a terrific experience for your spirit and soul. At the same time, if you can serve with a friend, family member, partner, or a group that you are a part of, the experience is a force multiplier as you have created memories together which you can call upon forever.”– Cindy Murray, Volunteer Team Leader
What is one of your favorite experiences in service?
Wow, there are so many! Four co-workers from a well-known Hawaiian Luau, “won” the opportunity to join a volunteer service program. During their 30 Years of Aloha volunteering program, the four individuals had logged the most volunteer hours of the Luau staff, and their reward was an expense-paid opportunity to volunteer with another indigenous community. Fortunately for my team, they chose Global Volunteers and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. These four volunteers brought a wonderful spirit to the service program and their performances, featuring traditional Hawaiian songs and dances resonated with everyone: the local community and the other volunteers.
Of course, volunteering with my mom and watching her work alongside local people, most of whom were middle-aged mothers and fathers who by day worked at a Minnesota meat packing factory and by night studied hard to pass their citizenship tests, was incredibly special. My mom was a lifelong volunteer and proved a natural cheerleader with these people who were trying to make better lives for themselves and their families and striving to live their greatest potential.
There is the time we had a grizzly bear appear outside of our sleeping quarters in Montana. Most volunteers did not take the situation seriously until a family of local people drove up to inform us of the danger. The strength of the relationship that Global Volunteers has with the local community really shone through during that situation. And the care and compassion emanating from the community.
Several times during service programs, a volunteer or our entire group of volunteers has been invited to visit with a dying local person or to attend a funeral. Again, the power of these invitations shows the amazing relationship that Global Volunteers builds with local communities. These examples just ooze with compassion and mutual understanding of the human experience.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, Cindy?
In closing, I just want to share, for the record, that Global Volunteers has become a part of who I am, and I am forever grateful to Michele Gran and Bud Philbrook for having the vision and acting upon it and for instilling its value in their children, who are engaged with them currently to carry forth their legacy. Additionally, I cherish and thank the many talented Minnesota-based and worldwide staff members, my sister and brother volunteer team leaders, board members, donors, all the volunteers, and the local people in communities throughout the world who have embraced Global Volunteers and all it stands for, thank YOU, thank YOU, thank YOU.
In her free time, Cindy loves to laugh out loud at New Yorker cartoons, read, watch periodic wild turkey parades out her window, quiz her niece and nephews with questions about their worlds, learn to play GO with Frank, hike and take in fresh air, mess around with pickling and fermenting foods, and send good old-fashioned letters, sometimes on unusual stationary like cardboard boxes.
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