Meet Center Volunteer John O’Connell!

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Being on a team of 300 AIDS/LifeCycle roadies, our only purpose is to make other peoples’ experience better. Living a week of being of service and volunteering collectively with that many people changes you in ways you could never imagine.

The joy and caring experienced in the ride’s “love bubble” carries me throughout the entire year.

The ride brings so many different communities together and breaks down barriers in a way that ripples out into the real world and changes everything for the better. When I came out in the 1980s, that kind of support just wasn’t possible.

Working in food services during the ride, the connections are profound. I will never forget the young rider who nicknamed me “Breakfast Santa.” He said my being there each day at 4 a.m., being big and loud, smiling and thanking and encouraging people, made him smile every morning.

One year, two guys would come through my line every day and I assumed they were a couple. After five days, they informed me that were in fact best friends and that one was straight. The next year, one told me that his friend had died suddenly. We hugged each other and cried.

AIDS/LifeCycle is a place where everyone is encouraged to live their truly authentic self — fully. I walked away from my first year less judgmental, more accepting and encouraging. I was able to understand and express my own truth more clearly. The more authentically I live my life, the more acceptance and love I receive from the universe.

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Hometown: Boston, Mass.

Year Started Volunteering: 2017

Volunteer Position: Co-captain of AIDS/LifeCycle Food Services

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