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Volunteering at the Vilnius Marathon: Good Fun with Good People for a Good Cause

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2020 at 4:58 pm.

By Darius Gabrilavicius, Summer Work Travel Alumni, Lithuania

J-1 US Alumni Association Lithuania volunteers at the Vilnius Marathon Individuals wearing black facemasks are members of the alumni association.

Summer Work Travel Alumnus Darius Gabrilavicius reflects on his experience volunteering at the Vilnius Marathon, which was held on September 13, 2020 in Lithuania. Darius volunteered at a fluid station along the race course alongside 43 members of the newly established J-1 US Alumni Association of which he is a founding member.

Why did you decide to volunteer at the Lithuania Marathon?

Before the Vilnius Marathon I had volunteered only a few times in my life. I thought this was a good way to achieve two things. First, I just wanted to help people who were very tired while trying to push their physical and mental limits to the max, and second, we thought we could lead by example as members of J-1 Alumni association which we started very recently to, among other things, encourage volunteering among young people in Lithuania.

What was it like to interact with the other volunteers and runners on the race course?

It was great to see so many young people giving their weekend time to volunteer. I feel like volunteering attracts a certain kind of people: proactive, open-minded, looking to improve the world around them. Interaction with them always encourages me to be better. I could say the same about the runners: seeing how they take this challenge head on puts things in perspective and helps to adopt more of a “can do” attitude.

Left: Darius just finished preparing the water cups for runners| Right: Darius [shown right] looking at the silver medal won by Lithuanian athlete in Rio 2016.

What did you enjoy most about your volunteer experience?‎

I feel like our station was one of the most important and most interesting ones. We were on the 38th kilometer of the marathon. It was a really rewarding experience to see the final push of the athletes (and regular people who want to challenge themselves), and help them do it by providing a simple everyday thing as a cup of water.

Tell me about your experience meeting members of the Lithuanian Paralympic Committee.

I had an opportunity to learn about the ways the Paralympic committee encourages and promotes sports among persons with disabilities and to see up close and touch the actual gold medals of the Paralympic Games. There is one lesson that I took to heart. I have always felt that if you had the misfortune of a horrible accident, which leaves you disabled, your life is over and you are not yourself anymore. What I learned from the President of the Lithuanian Paralympic Committee Mindaugas Bilius is that no matter what happens, you can always be better than you were yesterday. Even an accident that leaves you with almost 30 bones broken and almost 60 total fractures can, in his words, make your life better. This does not make you a lesser person, and can provide you with an opportunity to learn about yourself and improve as a person.

The J-1 alumni association tent at Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania

Why did you decide to create the J-1 alumni association and what is your goal? 

First, it was to help connect the many different people throughout many different programs who studied, worked and travelled in the United States. These people number in the thousands in Lithuania, and their experiences spread throughout decades. Helping to connect like-minded people in different walks and stages of life seemed like a great idea.

Second, we felt that the Americans had a very healthy attitude towards volunteering, which is encouraged both in schools and universities. We thought we could try and spread this idea among young people in our communities. That’s exactly what we did on our first public appearance during the Vilnius Marathon.



Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

About Nicole Elkon

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Nicole Elkon

Nicole Elkon joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange in September 2021. Until June 2021, Ms. Elkon was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Human Rights First, an independent advocacy organization focused on human rights and the rule of law. Prior to her position as COO, Ms. Elkon was a Senior Advisor at Results for America (RFA), a non-profit organization focused on advancing data-driven, evidence based public policy at all levels of government. She also served as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of ECA and was Director of the Office of Public Private Partnerships at ECA working to leverage strategic partnerships to enhance Administration foreign policy priorities.

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