A mother-daughter story that will inspire you to call your mom right now and start packing your bags.

Joy and MarAnn in Costa Rica
MaryAnn Steinberg (left), at 82, proved that there’s no age limit to giving back.

Joy Steinberg (right) isn’t new to international volunteer work. Her first trip was in 2007 with Habitat for Humanity in Honduras, and ever since she’s spent half of her annual vacation days volunteering abroad. She’s traveled with Cross-Cultural Solutions to Brazil, Peru, Morocco, and Costa Rica, helping in in orphanages, senior homes, and community centers. When Joy returned from her fourth Cross-Cultural Solutions Volunteer Abroad program, she immediately started thinking about her next program.

“The spirit must have been contagious. When talking with my mom and basically asking her blessing to miss a family holiday for another service trip, her response was ‘Well, can I come with you?’”

MaryAnn Steinberg, Joy’s mom who is now 85, recalls the moment: “I perked up—that sounds like fun and exciting...new experiences and our going together…It became a reality fast.”

Joy and MaryAnn in Costa Rica with CCSJoy decided to return to Costa Rica with her mom, since she knew the staff and volunteer assignment well. This wasn’t her mom’s first time abroad. Joy describes the Steinbergs as a “traveling family,” which wasn’t common in the Midwest town where she grew up. Her parents made international travel a priority, even though they were an average middle class family. They were frugal: Joy recalls how they never bought new furniture or cars and lived in the same house for 30 years. If they went out to dinner, her parents enforced a no soda or tea rule. However, by the time she was 18, Joy had been to Europe, Asia, and Mexico.

Although Joy’s mom had left the country before, she’d always been a tourist on leisure travel; and although she had volunteered before, handing out coffee at community kitchens or delivering Meals-On-Wheels, she’d never been immersed in a foreign culture before. This was going to be a new experience.

Volunteer Abroad with Joy and MaryAnn in Costa RicaJoy and her mom volunteered at a senior center where Joy had volunteered a year prior. Despite the fact that Joy had only been there a week, several of the residents remembered her and were happy to see her. “I didn’t have my hopes up,” Joy said. “It was very sweet.”

Many of the “abuelitos and abuelitas” (little grandparents) never have relatives visit them, and some were younger than Joy’s mom. Seeing Joy and her mother together lifted their spirits. “We gave them a taste of family memories they had, or they would want,” said Joy.

Her mom agreed: “They loved to see mother and daughter working together.”

Not only did they serve others, Joy and her mom now have invaluable memories from their time volunteering together. For instance, one day while they were playing music, Joy started dancing with one elderly gentleman. When Joy tried to hand her mom the camera to film the moment, the guy thought her mom was cutting in. He grabbed her mom and began dancing with her instead.

Joy’s mom was used to staying in hotels when abroad, but she felt comfortable in the Home-Base, where the two of them shared a room. Moreover, they connected with the other volunteers in the house, particularly some of the younger, college-aged, girls in the house. Joy noted how the girls opened up to them, telling them they wished they could talk to their mothers and do something like this to bring them closer.

“The bonding time together in the Home-Base was wonderful. We were greeted so warmly by the CCS staff and volunteers. Everyone wanted to adopt me as their mom, so you had to share me a bit,” her mom smiled.

What stands out in Joy’s memory was her mom “waking up saying how excited and happy she was that she was tingling...So many people told us how blessed we were to have this time together. We knew it, know it, and appreciate each moment. We're actually talking about our next trip.”


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