Moments that matter

My first volunteer experience was forced upon me.  OK, maybe “forced” is too strong a word, but I didn’t exactly volunteer to volunteer.  I was 10 years old and my brother Jeff was 11.  Our mom was a psychiatric nurse at Extendicare, an assisted living facility in southern Indiana.  My brother and I were off school for President’s Day, so instead of leaving us little devils at home with idle hands, my mom “volunteered” us to help out with arts and crafts day at work.

 I remember my initial discomfort when we walked into the large cafeteria-style room.  I was just a child, and for the first time surrounded by adults who could not fully take care of themselves.  Many were physically or mentally challenged, and I was really unsure of what to say or do in that environment.  I didn’t want to upset anyone.

My mom introduced me to one of the patients named Georgie.  He was in a wheelchair, with no legs below the knees. He was a big muscular guy, but had difficulty with his motor skills, even holding his head up.  His eyes rolled back and forth as he looked at me.

I asked my mom, “Can he understand what I say to him?”

She encouraged, “He may not understand all your words… but he understands how it feels.  Just talk to him like he was one of your friends.”

She said “Georgie, this is David. What’s your name?” 

He blurted out “Georgie!” and then lit up with a big smile and a gust of laughter, as if he loved to hear the sound of his own name. 

I started helping him with his art project, a decoupage, which basically involved gluing cutout pictures onto a wooden board and then brushing shellac over the top to create a shiny wall hanging.  I explained to Georgie what to do but he couldn’t really hold the brush on his own.  So I held it in his right hand as we brushed on the shellac together.

I sang out “back and forth, back and forth” in time with the brushing.  After a couple of minutes, I looked up to see that he was smiling joyously and swaying his head back and forth like Stevie Wonder.

That’s when he did something I did not expect. He reached over with his left hand, grabbed onto my left hand and just… held onto it.  (And he had a strong grip too.)  In that moment, I felt like I really mattered to him.  Do you ever get that feeling when you’re helping someone? 

You may have worked as a volunteer at some point in your life.  Maybe it’s a family tradition you are continuing.  Maybe you’re earning extra credit for school or work.  Maybe you just want something to help get you off the couch.

Whatever your motivation, you’re doing something very important when you put in effort to help others.  Volunteer effort is often measured by counting your hours.  In addition to counting hours, you can also measure moments that matter… like the one I had with Georgie.  Moments that may seem insignificant to you at first, but make a big difference in someone else’s life.  You may never know just how much.

If you have worked for a volunteer organization that matters to you, please tell us why and list a link in the comments below.  Let’s spread the word.

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2 Comments on “Moments that matter”

  1. Roland Says:

    http://www.workingwardrobes.org/

    One of the non-profit orgs to which I contribute yearly is called Working Wardrobes. They assist with helping people who have had a rough time of it in getting their lives back together. David, your request to post a link and tell about the feelings that relate to your own story moved me to mention this awesome organization here in Southern California.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share it.

    I DJ for the two events mentioned above as my volunteer effort. It’s an hour show for me. Over a hundred men and a hundred women attend their respective events called “Men’s Day Of Self Esteem,” and “Women’s Day Of Self Esteem.”

    The participants come from all over, and end up in a rehabilitation house of some kind, of which there are numerous locations in SoCal, probably as in most populous cities. They have are usually addicts of alcohol and drug abuse, many passing through jail as part of their paths. As you can imagine, many have hit their bottom, fortunately before their problems captured their lives.

    After months of personal climbing and evolving, the individuals who get to participate with the WW program attend this “Esteem” event, after personal group and individual counseling, and professional business guidance, such as how to prepare for a job interview, and how to fill out an application for work.

    The day of the events, hundreds of volunteers get together bringing racks of clothes, food, and services paraphernalia. These goods are used the day of the event to do many things. The participants are given back massages, haircuts and styles, makeovers, pep talks, and a full business wardrobe started set, with nice suits and shirts… everything from underwear and socks, to ties and colorful accents.

    The attendees are all fed, processed through the machine, if you will… but something amazing happens… the people walk into the “finale” theater like all different people. They all look like business reps from professional companies. They look happy, confident, and energized. Their self esteem has radically changed, even from the morning of the event.

    To see this transformation allows the participants to see a hundred people who have basically hit “their” bottoms rise in self-awareness, dignity, and self esteem. And then they attend a mini-job fair sponsored by Men’s Wearhouse, and some other companies and agencies.

    These are my two volunteer events that I devote myself to each year. I am willing to bet that what I get out of my participation “almost” equals that of the men and women who walk the paths of transformation back into a life of happiness and positive achievement. The organization can only exist and function through donations and volunteers, literally hundreds of which all show up to offer their manpower and professional services.

    Thanks for allowing me to post, Dave. We all will benefit from our benevolent outreaches. I have come to believe that it is one of the essences of humanity to in these ways be brothers and sisters to those around us who could use a helping hand and a little guidance and hope.

    Sincerely,
    Roland.

  2. Khoder Baydoun Says:

    Hi David,

    This story propelled me to write to tell you how significant is your writing. I loved this story, especially the line about the boy as he repeated, “Back and forth…,” and how the man’s head was bopping back and forth. The harmony between these two simultaneous scenes in this scene is ingenious. I will never forget this line. If you develop your writing skills further, you will without doubt become an accomplished writer. The ideas in your head and how you tell them is a treasure that every writer covets. The significance about your stories and speeches is that they are simple, natural, and flow well. Thank you for sharing.

    Khoder


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