27 March 2006
Yes, that was me you saw with a leaf rake in my hands Saturday morning a week ago - a very chilly morning, you will recall - cleaning out a batting cage at the Little League field.
I was volunteering, I am proud to say.
I could have curled up on a sofa with The Inquirer and a cup of tea; watched Book TV, or checked the overnight sports scores on ESPN. All in a warm place.
I haven't raked leaves in my own backyard for some time, since pulling the Tom Sawyer trick on my two boys. But the coach's appeal to rake the ball field where my younger son plays couldn't be ignored.
I would be lying, however, if I didn't tell you I was kind of grumpy as I started.
Darn, it was nippy out there. My muscles, unaccustomed to the labor, began to protest right away and my mind wandered back to the warm living room where I had left my little ballplayer engrossed in a video game.
Truth be told, the thought crossed my mind that the kids should be raking their own *&%$#@ field. Isn't it enough that we parents come out to watch them play?
Still, I persevered. Least I could do.
Coach works so hard all week for our kids while we parents sit around eating chips and wondering which kid will cause a lawsuit.
I must admit that the higher the pile of leaves grew, the better I felt. I was downright ecstatic at the end.
Let me confess: Volunteering doesn't come easily to me.
I don't mind volunteering, but why do these "opportunities" always come at inopportune times, such as when Fox 29 is showing Winx Club or the weather's cold?
Moreover, I just don't think I have that much to give to the world, even free. Call it sloth, call it modesty, but I feel I serve best when I stay out of the way of people who are trying to serve.
I do admire these people very much.
I'm not even thinking of the super volunteers - those who take blankets to the homeless on winter nights; build houses for Habitat for Humanity; fly to war-torn lands with cholera vaccines; run for Miss America on a platform of ending world poverty; or become school board members.
The people I'm thinking of are those who spend time on community boards planning the chicken-dinner fund-raiser that would pay for the chicken dinner to come after that, or evenings hearing immigrants read English, or weekends and evenings coaching Little League.
My volunteering preferences run to small things done sporadically: A ball field raked here, a little bit of reading to underprivileged kids there. I guess I am the as-needed guy. Nothing heroic about it. Doesn't feel like true volunteering.
My work for ending world poverty involves slipping tips to the Nepali gas station attendant.
What makes real volunteers tick? How do they give so much of themselves?
I turned to an authoritative source for answers, Kathy Morris, human-resources manager at Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey.
Kathy not only regularly "hires" volunteers (along with paid workers) for Goodwill; for decades, until a family illness forced her to cut back, she volunteered "everywhere" - at churches, soup kitchens, senior citizen facilities.
Working at Goodwill, where poor people from Pennsauken and thrifty people from Moorestown shop, would be like volunteering, it seems. Why do more?
"It's different," Kathy tells me. "I love Goodwill and working here and seeing the good we do," but volunteering gave her a different kind of good feeling.
She struggles to put it into words, then says: "I used to get more out of volunteering than they got out of me."
The volunteers around her say the same thing, she adds.
I guess I accidentally experienced that feeling raking leaves last weekend.
Then it dawned on me.
All those times I was loath to leave the sofa, thinking I had nothing to give, I should have thought about what I would get out of volunteering. Think selfish, not selfless, and the world will be better.
So, Coach, what do you want me to do next and what's in it for me?