Volunteerism is a big topic recently. Funny, I have been volunteering since I was a child. It is as natural to me as breathing. I was taught by my parents and my community to give back.
I went to Trader Joe's recently and outside sat the most beautiful man with a coffee can and a bag full of paper Poppies. He had on a hat that said he was with the VFW. I didn't need the hat to know that, I helped to sell Poppies when I was a little girl. It was an honor to be a part of that, and I was good! No wonder I ended up in sales, I had no fear walking up to everyone and with my big blue eyes, look right at them and get them to buy.
I grew up in a small town in Iowa and my parents were very active in the community. If something needed to be done, they did not wait for someone else to do it, they did it. I remember many snowy days that Dad would drive a tractor from his business to our neighborhood and plow out all the drives.
My Mom is a nurse and worked for a local physician. If someone was not able to get their meds, she would call me and I would go deliver it. One day, after running some errands, I had stopped back at the office and there was an elderly lady standing on the sidewalk. I was 16-17 at the time, and did everything at a dead run. This lady stopped me and told me she needed a ride home, so I ran over and began ushering her into the car. She looked at me and said "Wait, it takes me a minute to get started!" She taught me to slow down a little so I didn't miss the obvious.
I am a part of my community, no matter where that is. When I lived in North San Diego County, one of my neighbors was this adorable older couple. They had been married for most of their lives and he was suffering from Parkinson's Disease. They had relatives that lived close, but it was important to me to make sure she knew I was available. So, I would take her to the grocery store when I went. She would get a few things and then sit at the front watching everyone while I shopped. At first I thought I should hurry, but she assured me that people watching was one of her favorite things to do.
I had a small white dog named Noel that her husband just loved. One day I was driving in and they were in the parking lot and she looked stricken. I stopped to ask her if she needed help and she did. They tried to walk across the street to the store and he stopped and could not get started again. So, I bundled him into the car, settled her in and put Noel on his lap. We drove across the street, I took him to the yogurt shop and sat him out front with a cone and Noel - I gave the kid running the shop a few bucks and told him to keep an eye on the old man and the dog (I may have threatened harm if anything happened to either one, but that is beside the point.) I took her shopping. This couple taught me about true love.
Later, I became a volunteer at the San Diego Foster Care Facility. I worked Intake and the Baby Cottage. At Intake, I developed a plan for kids coming in to help calm them and give them some options. I let them pick a movie and put out snacks. Some kids had not eaten in days and the babies often needed to be changed and cleaned up a little. They were completely cared for once they got to their cottages, but Intake can take up to two hours. These kids taught me compassion.
When I worked in the Baby Cottage, they quickly figured out that I can get babies to sleep (it's a gift!) So, when I walked in, they always gave me the worst baby there. Often that was a crack baby, I did not know it at the time, but they can't sleep for long periods. I was trying to get as many babies to sleep as possible, yes - I am that competitive! What I learned is, that the biggest gift I could give that cottage was to take the crack baby and keep him/her asleep for two hours. I just sat in a rocker for two hours and patted that baby's bottom to get them to sleep. It taught me patience at a whole new level.
Now I am starting a new organization - and it is teaching me all new lessons. I believe strongly in volunteering and do it as much as I can. I do it formally and informally. I save my water bottles in my car and give them to the homeless guys that live in my alley. I carry water in my trunk in case they need some.
I believe that compassion will be the saving grace for all of us. When I am giving, I am not thinking about me. I am not worrying about the bills, my job, people, places or things. I am in the moment and being of service.
Am I special? Heck no! There are a lot of people who do much more and affect more people that I do. Do I care about that? Heck no! I care about the people that have affected my life. They have left an indelible mark on my soul and I carry them with me wherever I go.
Take the time to figure out how you can volunteer. There is always time, no matter how busy you are. It is a gift you give yourself that is unequaled.
Oh - by the way, I stopped and bought a Poppy and am wearing it proudly on my handbag.