Doesn’t today’s episode title sound like a meme? Community service: it’s not just for hardened criminal on parole anymore. I love it and it makes me laugh every time I read it! Now, I can’t take credit for the title. That honor actually goes to a gentleman named Jeremy C. Holm. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Jeremy is an Olympian and author who competed in both the two-man and four-man bobsled teams.
So what does Jeremy have to do with service? Well, I’m glad you asked. My wife Ginger has been delivering MOW for 12 years. Because one of their pickup points is the Riverton Senior Center, she found herself there every week and visiting with the kind people who make serving seniors in Riverton a priority. Ginger decided that volunteering one or two days a week at the senior center would be fun. Jeremy was the guest speaker at the annual appreciation dinner for the Riverton Senior Center volunteers.
Volunteering isn’t glamorous work. When Ginger started at Meals On Wheels, all she knew was that it aligned with her love for seniors. What she didn’t know was how impactful that service would be nor how deep her connections would become with those she has served.
Many of those receiving meals have come and gone over the years. There’s one man who has been on her route since she started – he is 103 years old. He was just 91 when Ginger started! He still lives on his own and his secret for a long life? A piece of Marie Calendar pie at lunchtime every day!
Ginger has naturally developed a deep relationship with several of the clients on her route. And, as you can imagine, that brings pain. Sometimes deep pain. Over the years, there are four women who became fast friends of Ginger’s. They came from various walks of life with lots of different or challenging family dynamics. Over time, a close friendship developed not just with these women, but with their families. If I described some of the heartbreaking circumstances, you would likely think I was making it up to generate emotion.
The Single Greatest Problem With Serving
Each one of these special ladies has died over the years and there is a tremendous sense of loss. As you begin to see people, you recognize the unique story each one has and like the little boy throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time, you can become overwhelmed with the need. But just like that little boy, you make a difference when you commit all of your energy to the one in your hands.
There are very few people who are paid to make an Olympic event happen. The volunteers are the ones who make the moment “golden.” The Olympics in SLC in 2002 had 23k volunteers. The Olympics could not happen without volunteers. These folks work crazy hours put in ridiculous effort, and demonstrate unending passion that fuels the games! The Spirit of Olympism is defined as “Sport at the service of humanity.”
Gross National Happiness
Service contributes to happiness. Back in 2008, King Jigme Wangchuck from Bhutan coined the phrase “gross national happiness” and said it was more important than the gross national product. Are you choosing how you build your personal gross happiness? Much of this happiness is derived from service to others. If you think about your interactions on any given day, you either leave or take happiness. Our choices can create or steal happiness. Use your talents, time and energy to contribute happiness to others.
Here are a few thoughts from a Time magazine article titled The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others:
Find Your Passion
Our passion should be the foundation for our giving. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. Choose what is matters to you!
Give Your Time
The gift of time is often more valuable to the receiver and more satisfying for the giver than the gift of money.
We have all felt the dread that comes from being cajoled into giving, such as when friends ask us to donate to their fundraisers. In these cases, we are more likely to give to avoid humiliation rather than out of generosity and concern. DON’T BE GUILTED INTO GIVING! This type of giving doesn’t lead to a warm glow feeling; more likely it will lead to resentment. Instead, set aside time, think about options, and make a choice aligned with values.
Serve When You Think You Should
This past weekend, Ginger and I joined several co-workers for a work day at The Road Home’s Palmer Court facility. Palmer Court is The Road Home’s permanent supportive housing development. Residents are working with case managers and volunteers to fully transition back into housing & the community. Single, married, families with children, young people, old folks, you name it, they are there working on their transition back into the community.
Neither Ginger or I had been to Palmer Court before. We responded because Chris Acton, President of the Board of Trustees for the Road Home, presented the opportunity where I work and I wanted to support the initiative. I didn’t actually know what to expect. As we pulled in, we joined several groups volunteering their time and effort this day. Our job was pretty simple: we would be cleaning: wiping down doors, hand railings, windows, and any surfaces that were in multiple common areas on three floors in multiple wings. The facility is large with over 200 units, so there’s easily 350+ people living here.
We interacted with several of the residents during the five hours we were there. Honestly, some of them just want to be seen. To be acknowledged. To see them as humans, as valuable people. Their challenges are different than mine. I’m fortunate not to be battling an addiction or a felony on my record or struggling with a mental illness. But we are much more similar than we are different. Like each one of them, I want to know that I matter. I want to believe that someone thinks I have value to offer society and my community. Like them, I want to belong. I want to know that if I’ve made a mistake, that there is forgiveness and an opportunity to start again.
When we started, our work was unfamiliar. We didn’t know the other people on our team. We didn’t have relationship or connection. But we did have a common purpose: we were there to make a difference for those we were serving. At different points, I found myself thinking about my task: wiping a door, cleaning a window or washing a handrail. And it felt overwhelming.
Do It With Excellence
Some areas of the building need a lot more than a little cleaning. Many of the people need much more help than I can give. But here was my thought: I’m here to do a specific task. I’m going to do that task with excellence. I will take the task in front of me and do the best I can. I’m not going to skimp or do it quick. If this door was in my home, if I was looking out this window, or if I was using this handrail, then how much time would I take to clean it?
Love for each other makes it easy to serve each other. We serve because we love.
So I have a simple question for you today. Where could you serve? Where could you volunteer? Plan a contribution of your time – commit right now to do something for someone else. And set a date. Don’t let it go, just do it.
Great Quotes From This Episode:
“For it is in giving that we receive.” – Saint Francis of Assisi
“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” – Leo Tolstoy
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Jeremy C. Holm’s website
Time magazine article “The Secret To Happiness Is Helping Others”
The Road Home’s Palmer Court facility
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