n my years of volunteer efforts, and the professional work I’ve done for nonprofits, three experiences stand out.
I always encourage students to consider volunteer activity as a way to supplement their college experience. Any selfless act of giving will do, but actually spending time with people and serving them is the best – in my opinion.
Like most people, I was probably drawn to service because of my parents and those I respect and admire. It also has a bit to do with serving social issues I have had to deal with in my personal and family experiences. And, sometimes it is just an issue that strikes a cord and I felt compelled to offer to help.
Any of those reasons may describe what drew me to the three organizations above.
At Camp ASCCA, I was looking for a summer job back in the early 1980’s. I called the camp from an ad in the local paper and – shock of shocks – an old friend from high school answered. Jake had been working there for some time. I respected him and the camp seemed fun, so I asked if I could come up for the summer. Best choice I ever made. I was hooked after interacting with the campers. I learned more from them than I could ever teach them.
For the Crisis Center, I became involved by following family friends that were already serving. It was terrific communication experience and it filled a need for people seeking an open, and non-judgemental, ear. Reflective listening. Listening to others, not yourself. A useful practice. For a manager, this can prove to be a powerful tool. People that lead need to be able to listen reflectively – not preach.
With Special Olympics, it was a combination of the athletes and the volunteers.
I’ll never forget one trip. We took bus loads of children and adults from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery for the George Lindsey Golf Tournament. You do remember Goober, don’t you? He was from Jasper, Alabama. He did great things for Special Olympics.
That was the day of “family friendly” stars. Lindsey would bring in the most wonderful stars of that day. Today, sadly, some would likely snicker at them. Not me. I loved the TV shows of that day.
Fred McMurray was the Grand Marshall that year. I took my charges to the big parade and we prepared for a salute to the star of “My Three Sons” in a most fitting way. I taught the athletes the theme song. We were singing and we were humming. Then, we practiced the feet tapping, along with the hands waving above them. OK, only the elderly among us will remember that part. The athletes caught on quickly, though. We were ready.
When the vintage car carrying McMurray and his wife rolled by, we were well into our rythym and song. You should have seen the smile on Mr. McMurray’s face. He and his wife got quite a chuckle out of our efforts. They waved and smiled at all the kids. How did the kids react? Well, they were smiling from ear to ear. That was a fun day.
Only by taking part, and giving your time to something positive, can you experience the simplest of pleasures – like that day. Giving is good. Taking? I’m not into it. There really isn’t any payoff.