Sunday, January 06, 2008

Special Thank-yous!

I have to admit, there is something about working in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast that you just have to like. Oh sure there is the inevitable disappointment and despair at the slow pace of recovery, but there is also something very very good about being here.

I used to attribute "it", whatever it was, largely to being at HandsOnUSA (for instance see Have a HOUSA day). But I have learned that the same idea can be experienced at any of the hundreds of volunteer camps operating throughout the Gulf Coast.

What is "it"? "It" is hard to verbalize. But it has to have something with the unpredictableness and the constant ability to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Maybe it is both. Who knows and in the end who really cares?

What do I mean? There are probably more examples of this than there are people who have volunteered in the Gulf, but to make the idea more concrete Take the jobs my team have been working on for the past few days. It started out two days ago on a group of us went to cut down two dead trees. Before either tree was finished, a neighbor had stopped with an offer of hot tea (it was a very cold morning) for all of the volunteers. When drinking the tea we got talking and she asked whether we could cut some trees on her property. The trees were all dead and ranged from fairly large to rather small and something that we could handle, so a few phone calls and some paperwork later, we had agreed to cut five trees on her property.

And thus began yet an other rewarding, yet unplanned, adventure in volunteering.

The action in this story was fairly mundane: cut, chunk, and carry away five trees. It was, as the leader of a more skilled team so graciously reminded me "unskilled work". And it may be relative to some jobs, but that does not mean it is unimportant work or that the volunteers don't bring skills that are generally not considered necessary to cut trees.

So what made the job noteworthy? Lois. Over the course of the next day and a half, she won her way into the hearts of all of the volunteers. Not through the tea or hot, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (although surely neither hurt), but with such kindness that is rarely felt in day to day life, but that is seemingly the norm in the course of a volunteer’s day.

Here we were helping a woman who lost her husband in the storm and whose life was turned entirely upside down, yet it was she that was offering volunteers the use of her car, baking cookies, and talking to each and every volunteer as if (s)/he were her long lost relative.

As we were leaving, Lois thanked us and told me that we probably saved her and her daughter over $2000 and that this was money that would be used to help put her grand daughter through college.

As I walked back to the van, my mind again wondered back to playing the roll of scorekeeper. Lois’s $2000 vs our cookies and tea and thank-yous.

You know what? It is a trade I would make any time. We definitely got the better end of this one.

So as a tribute to that idea, I decided to offer this commercial idea to MasterCard:

Boots and clothes for trip ----- $100

Sleeping on cots and eating what is served: $200

Getting a heartfelt thank-you from someone you helped

- Priceless.

Other Updates:

* The camp got much more crowded today as the swim teams from Asbury College got here. Actually it seems a bit too crowded, but it will work out fine.

*Drywall work got started at the Whavers house. They are out of money so may not be able to purchase the additional drywall.

* Ran with Pete this evening on the beach, alone this AM.

* Dinner was spaghetti but my real treat was a bowl of boiled peanuts.

No comments: