Volunteer John Witeck: Creating Lasting Change in the Community
By Jodie Young
“You get to meet amazing people with such life stories.”
Although John Witeck was referring to the elders he sees on his route, his words can easily be applied to himself.
Being the Change
John was born in Washington, DC, grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and moved to Hawaii as a graduate student at the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa. John has led a remarkable life dedicated to fighting social injustice, including protesting against his draft in the Vietnam War, supporting the struggles of various communities in Hawai‘i, working as a union representative with the United Public Workers, and founding the Hawai‘i People’s Fund to fund grassroots activities.
He revealed that his experience marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 greatly influenced him. The historic march and John’s involvement were featured in the documentary Answering the Call, in which his nephew and filmmaker Brian Jenkins explores the current state of voting rights in America.
Justice for the Elderly
Another community whose needs were struggling to be heard were those of the elderly. John first became involved with Hawai‘i Meals on Wheels in 2006 while working at the Board of Water Supply. He began as a volunteer driver for the Palolo route and delivered for approximately one year, when a hip surgery forced him to stop. Several years later, John received a second opportunity to volunteer with Hawai‘i Meals on Wheels as an employee at UH Manoa. The director of the Human Resources department wanted the staff to become more involved in community service. John suggested helping Hawai‘i Meals on Wheels. He partnered with another HR staff member to pick up the meals and deliver them together during their lunch break. “It was something we could do,” John said. “The route was near our workplace. We could finish it in 45 minutes.”
Passing the Torch
When his delivery partner left UH for another job, John continued the Tuesday route on his own. Now that he is retired, his twin grandchildren sometimes accompany him on his McCully delivery route. John believes in the importance of being of service to others, and Hawai‘i Meals on Wheels helps to teach his grandchildren how to give back to the community. The twins enjoy their roles as bringers of news, food, and drink, and they occasionally ask John about visiting some of the clients, even on the days he is not scheduled to deliver.
Bringing People Together
John always looks forward to learning new things from the clients, who are fascinating people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. He has grown close to the people on his route, and he is sometimes invited to family gatherings. John’s own family has become more multicultural, and he admires this trait in the welcoming spirit of the islands. “Good people are amazing – they’re the real treasure,” he said. “Hawai‘i is lucky to have such people and culture.”