Humans of TCGMC: Tyler Stahl
“Sometimes people are forced to do [volunteer work] because of work, but for me it’s very different. I feel like it’s my job and duty in life to give back – because I have privilege.” This week, Josh Elmore talks with Tyler Stahl, one of our singers whose volunteer work has given him a new sense of perspective.
Tyler: I started volunteering by doing Feed My Starving Children and going to homeless shelters and elderly homes. I’ve taken piano lessons since I was 6, all the way through college. I would actually go to community centers and play music for the elderly. It makes me happy.
When people think of volunteer work, they often think, “Oh, I have to give up my time to do this job that doesn’t have any impact. I’m just doing it because I have to.” Sometimes people are forced to do it because of work, but for me it’s very different. I feel like it’s my job and duty in life to give back – because I have privilege. As a person who is white and a person who is stable – that’s up for interpretation, but… –I have a job and a steady income. I’m healthy, I don’t have any disabilities, so I feel like it’s my duty to serve the community in ways I’m able.
Josh: YOU TALKED ABOUT WORK AS A MEANS OF HELPING THE COMMUNITY. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR JOB.
Tyler: Within my company, there’s a non-profit organization called Headwaters Relief Organization. It’s one of the largest relief organizations in the country. They respond to natural disasters. It started with Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. They go to pretty much anywhere in the country. They go where there are floods or earthquakes. They don’t have any paid staff.
Josh: WHAT WAS YOUR MOST SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCE WITH THE ORGANIZATION?
Tyler: Back in October, we went to Haiti.
The trip was about a week. We went to 3 orphanages and a farm out in the country. Haiti is smaller than Wisconsin, but to get somewhere, it takes forever. They don’t have highways. A lot of their roads are just gravel and dirt because it’s such a mountainous country. It was hot and bumpy and there were 20 people in the van.
There was one orphanage we went to that had four walls with no roof. It just had cinder blocks and a gate. There were about 50-60 kids living in a building the size of this coffee shop. They didn’t even have their own beds.
We were focused on helping kids with coping mechanisms. After losing their parents, they’re dealing with PTSD. They don’t have doctors or therapists. One of the things we did was teach them how to cope with stress. I know it may sound silly, but one of my favorite things was that we gave them bubbles. If you can imagine how excited – and calm – a kid gets when they’re blowing bubbles.
Josh: I GET PRETTY EXCITED AND CALM BLOWING BUBBLES!
Tyler: I know, me too! But it’s a cheap way to have fun and let them be kids. When you’re 6 and dealing with something like that, it’s hard to have fun. They don’t know how to. Every day, they’re thinking about what they’re going to eat and how they’re going to get clothes or take a shower.
We brought a ton of food and a ton of supplies. They had measured the kids’ weight two years prior, and when we measured again, we learned they weren’t as malnourished. They had gained weight! We also helped them get more beds. We went to a market with our CEO, who is good at bargaining, and we bought 30 mattresses and we built frames for them. Now, pretty much everyone has a brand-new mattress. We cleaned everything out and tried to make the space healthier and more sanitized. For me, that made me cry.
It’s very dry and hot, and they don’t have running water to take a shower. They’re living in disease and there’s no one who can help them. You see videos and you hear stories about these countries, but it doesn’t get to you until you’re there yourself. It was emotional – and, not a lot of words. We were all shocked. It’s a very eye-opening experience, to say the least.
Josh: YOU TALKED A BIT ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL SHOCK OF THE IMPOVERISHED CONDITIONS – THE DESTITUTION. HOW DID IT CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ONCE YOU WERE BACK IN THE STATES?
Tyler: I walked into my apartment and I said, “Wow.” I feel like I’m pretty minimal, but walking in, I’m like “Oh my god – I have a room just to sleep in. I have a bed and a kitchen where I can cook food and a living room.” I have so much space that I don’t need. I take for granted the things I have. I can go to the grocery store and buy inexpensive food that’s ready to go. All those things are non-existent in Haiti.
Emotionally and mentally I still get caught up on my “success.” I want to make money and be wealthy. I want more money than I have right now. I want to go on fancy vacations and have a nice car, and when I don’t have those things, I feel like I’m not doing well in my life. Within the gay community especially, I see so much competition.
I used to see someone who seems better than me, and I was jealous of that. After being in these communities, though, I met people who were happy with none of these things. The truth is, though, that I can be happy with nothing, as long as I have solid ground and family and friends to support me. That’s all that matters.