Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Stories that Change Us

About fours years ago a gentleman was at a food pantry helping with the Hunger in America study by doing surveys with the clients that were coming in to receive food. For one of the surveys he spoke with an older woman who kindly answered all of the questions but, in addition, she shared her story and reason for being there.

She began and stated that she was a grandmother who had two grandsons - one was 8 and the other was 5 years old. They had both been brought up in a very troubled and rough home and their parents had neglected to take care of them. The parents weren't providing their sons with adequate shelter, clothes, and, most importantly, food and water. Through a series of events the parents were deemed to be unfit to take care of their children so grandmother and grandfather were given custody and took in the two young boys to live with them.

The woman continued and said that when her grandsons first came to their house she weighed them and she found that the 8 year old weighed significantly less than the 5 year old. She knew that this wasn't right. Her older grandson was taller and had grown more but even still he was underweight and the 5 year old was at a good weight for his age. This didn't make sense to her but she soon received an answer from her 8 year old grandson. He said that they didn't eat very often, but when his parents were able to provide some food and they could eat he would always give most of his portion to his younger brother so that he wouldn't be hungry.

When I heard this it really pulled at my emotions, and I thought to myself, "Here was a boy that was 8 years old, just in elementary school, and he was serving as the caring parental figure for his younger brother." He could hear his younger brothers' stomach growling and he knew that he was in pain from the hunger because he was feeling the same thing. But he made the decision to give almost all of his food away and serve his younger brother, sacrificing his own comfort and well-being.

The gentleman was saddened and taken aback by this story, and the grandmother finished and said that from that day she vowed that here grandsons would never be hungry again. She and her husband didn't have much - enough to support themselves - with only a little left over in order to support the boys. But there just wasn't enough for everything, so she was left with the decision to go to the food pantry. And go she did. Through it all, she was going to keep her vow and provide for her grandsons, because no one should go hungry.

I had the opportunity this morning to hear that story firsthand from that gentleman, Harry Van Guilder, a retired professional who was the former Volunteer Coordinator for Feeding America Southwest Virginia. He still volunteers two days a week with the organization he has grown to love. His love and passion for serving stems from stories such as the one he shared. They keep him going and it gives feeling and a great perspective to the work that Feeding America Southwest Virginia does. In sharing stories with me, Harry also explained his work as the volunteer coordinator and also provided insight on why people volunteer.

According to the site Energize, Inc., an international training, consulting and publishing firm that specializes in volunteerism, they define the word "volunteer" as:

Volunteer, verb - To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one's basic obligations (Ellis).

There are many ways to define volunteer but I think that this definition really captures the essence of the heart behind volunteering. A person is acting out because they see a need and they want to address it with a generous attitude through giving of their time and skills. I asked Harry why he thought people volunteer and he explained that they want to contribute to an organization that impacts a community. They want their time to matter and they realize that helping a nonprofit can make a large impact in their community and in their own lives. There is also a social aspect to it: it's fun and enjoyable to volunteer and serve with others whether it is on a regular basis or only once a year. The nonprofit sector is greatly dependent on volunteers to help with daily operations, events, grant writing, and much more. The time, knowledge and skills provided by volunteers are essentially priceless.

The time spent with Harry this morning was both enlightening and very informative on the aspect of volunteering. Tomorrow I will be meeting with the current Volunteer Coordinator of Feeding America Southwest Virginia and will bring you more detailed information on how this position is organized and gain information on the dual purpose of volunteering in that the nonprofit's mission will be advanced while also engaging the volunteers so that they will have a memorable and worthwhile time.

But for now I want you to consider what you are passionate about.
  • What stories have you heard?
  • What have you experienced firsthand that have formed your thoughts and have driven you to volunteer?
And if you haven't volunteered then search out a nonprofit, church, or other organization that fits your interests and passions. No matter how large or small our skills are we can all serve - it's simple and even the smallest of acts will create a ripple effect that will impact a community.

For more information on volunteering and on opportunities with Feeding America Southwest Virginia please visit:  http://www.faswva.org/volunteer/

Defintion from:
Ellis, Susan. "How We Define "Volunteer" for Energize...and What Is Not Volunteering to Us." Energize, Inc. Especially for leaders of volunteers . Energize, Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Jun 2013.

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