Meals on Wheels Experience Gives Paguirigan a New Career Path

This article was written soon after Paguirigan’s AmeriCorps term of service ended on August 11, 2015.

The other day, a Meals on Wheels (MoW) client on the Tuscarora route stopped me as I was leaving and shouted across his driveway, “Are you going to be talking to or seeing Jessica Paguirigan again?  Please tell her how much we appreciate all that she has done for us.”

His sentiment is widely shared by other clients, the MoW staff at the Frederick County Department of Aging and MoW volunteers.  Paguirigan, a soft-spoken, thoughtful 2014 graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, has completed a year as Frederick County’s MoW Volunteer Maryland coordinator and the compliments are still rolling in.

She is being applauded for improving awareness of the program through social media, her energetic recruiting of new volunteers, compassion for the clients and efforts to recognize the service of those who volunteer their time every week to MoW.  On the social media front, she created LinkedIn and Facebook pages and a blog that spotlights the dedication of DOA MoW staffers and volunteers and the urgent needs of program clients.

Dave Romer, a MoW volunteer, told the Frederick News Post in May that “the program has expanded in all directions under [Paguirigan’s] watch.  She’s terrific.”  As someone who has worked closely with her in preparing blogs on the commitment of MoW staffers and volunteers and the pressing needs of clients, I can only echo Romer’s assessment.  And if you ask Mary Feaster, MoW outreach worker, be prepared to listen for a long time about how much Paguirigan’s hard work and innovative ideas are already sorely missed.

Paguirigan, unlike many of today’s young college graduates, did not start school knowing precisely what she wanted to do after graduating.  In fact, she chose St. Mary’s College because “people who go to a liberal arts college [like St. Mary’s] are just learning to explore themselves” to determine what career path to follow, she said.    

St. Mary’s provided a compelling learning experience and instilled in her a sense of wanting to help others.  A lot of classes there have public service components and the campus provides ample opportunities to serve.  “It’s in the mission of what they call ‘St Mary’s Way,'” said Paguirigan, who served as a community service outreach fellow while attending the school.  “That gave me a taste of what it’s like to coordinate volunteers,” she said.

After graduating, she was assigned to Volunteer Maryland (VM), which places AmeriCorps volunteers with non-profit organizations, government agencies and schools to address community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment.  VM works with its community partners to recruit, train and supervise AmeriCorps members to serve as the partners’ Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  Crucial funding is provided by AmeriCorps.   

Nationwide, AmeriCorps personnel mobilize millions of volunteers for the community organizations and agencies they serve.

For Paguirigan, a year of public service with the Frederick County Department of Aging’s Meals on Wheels program has given her desire to help others a specific direction:  after spending some time with her father and siblings in Hawaii and her fiance in Maryland, she will attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on gerontology.  “This year has given me some clarity as to what I should be doing with my life,” she said.  “[I’ve learned] you really can make a difference.  I feel like now I could coordinate volunteers anywhere.”

She will concentrate on the elderly because “I have learned a lot this year about the financial and medical issues seniors face.  I’m much more sensitive to age discrimination now.”

She has also learned to accept incremental success when trying to improve the conditions of the elderly.  “It is so sad that we can’t turn some situations around completely,” she said.  “We really want to.  [But] we’re limited by funding, resources and time.”

Fortunately, there were no limits on Paguirigan’s hard work and compassion this year at MoW and those attributes played an important role in the program’s progress.    

Written by Jeff Trewhitt, blog contributor and MOW Driver.