The first time that I remember volunteering and making a real impact was in college. I decided to lead an effort to create a safe space for kids to have Halloween, so I met the director at the local Boys & Girls Club, and we worked together to have Trick-or-Treating at their center. I went to dozens of grocery stores and retail outlets to see if they would give us candy. Most of them did. The process was tedious but simple. I was able to get loads and loads of candy to pass out to the children. Unfortunately, the week before the event, my brother-in-law suddenly and tragically died in a car accident. I didn’t attend the event, and I never returned back to the club to see how it went. I never received a thanks or any sort of recognition. I know that I made a positive impact because you don’t get THAT MUCH CANDY for underprivileged kids without seeing some smiling faces, and that is what I wanted – to make kids happy in a safe place. After that event, I would continue to do decades of work (mostly behind the scenes) because I enjoy knowing that I am making a positive impact.
Recently, I was presented two awards from my husband’s military unit for service to the Marines and their families. One award is specifically given to those people who don’t submit volunteer hours so that they can be recognized, and we are nominated by someone else because they want to ensure that we are recognized for our efforts. I should preface this by stating that I currently collect and submit volunteer hours for another organization because I think that people should be recognized for their volunteer efforts. I refuse to submit mine, so I obviously have a conflicting relationship with volunteerism and personal recognition. I want to recognize others; yet, I prefer to stay out of the views of recognition. The picture of me receiving one of the two awards shows me smiling more nervously than proudly.
The recognition ceremony was very small, which I loved, and it was just the volunteers, who are my friends, all of whom I love, and it involved food, which I love too. We were also given beautiful gifts, which I really LOVED. It got me thinking about recognition and swag. Normally, I don’t love recognition. I avoid it. Normally, I don’t need swag, but this felt different. I loved all of it. I don’t know if it is because they were unique, because they will remind me of my time in this unit, or because I genuinely enjoyed receiving a gift. Mostly, I think it was because I have missed my volunteer community so much over the past few months. (We have been physically distanced because of Covid-19.) The small brunch, recognition, and gifts served as a reminder that I am a part of something bigger than myself. I am part of a group of givers, who all want the same thing – to serve and support service members and their families.
If there is anything I have begun to realize over the past few months in isolation, it is: my friends are typically people who volunteer with me, and my interests are usually in giving back in some way. I also am reminded that I MUST do a better job in recognizing others. It is important, and it is something that I am not always good at. Actually, in the past, I am sure that I have failed miserably in this department. However, the most important thing that I have begun to realize is that I am truly privileged. If I have the time and resources to give back, to contribute, and to serve, it is an honor and a privilege.
She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had. (Mark 12:44)