Community service was a part of my upbringing. I remember working at the shelter with my family as a child, so happy to operate the rockin’ commercial dishwasher they had in the kitchen. The high school I graduated from regards community service as a cornerstone in education (30% of last year’s high school students have participated in mission trips). In college, my sophomore year housing was contingent upon a service project. Still, my service record has had its ebb and flow – at one stage of my life it becomes consistent and then at another it’s limited to the opportunities that throw themselves my way. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose experience has been such – ’tis life.
A belief that I didn’t have time for community service between my career, my housekeeping and my family fueled just such an ebb cycle a couple of years ago. I don’t want to be away from home any more than I am now, I thought. I’ll plug in to my community when we find a church. In the end, my opportunity to get back into a flow of service came from unanticipated circumstances: an interface with a breathalyzer got my lazy bum going, lickety-split. You don’t know how much time you actually have until a situation forces you to start organizing and using it.
I volunteered with several organizations over the next six months. I worked at a Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store, I participated in a work day for a transitional housing community, I stocked the pantry and thrift store at our local co-op and I began lending my marketing and event planning skills to I Am B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L., a mentoring program I am honored to be a part of to this day. Sometimes the work was fun, sometimes it was not. Sometimes it fit seamlessly into my schedule, sometimes not. But, when it was all said and done,
- I was out of excuses for not serving…and didn’t want to make them anymore, anyway.
- I was a more informed member of my community – able to direct those in need to sources for support and potential volunteers to vehicles of service.
- I had a better understanding of what kind of and how much service I could fit into my schedule.
- I was doing good work.
- I wanted to make service compulsory in my child’s upbringing.
January 18th is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A Civil Rights leader who encouraged community service as a means of raising one another up rather than tearing one another down, the holiday honoring him is now widely accepted as a day during which people commit acts of service. With the holiday just under a week away, I am reminded of my not so distant service surge and the lessons I carry from it. It is my hope that in sharing my own story of service, I might inspire someone else to start or fuel their own service flow. Consider dedicating some of your time on the 18th – to serve, investigate vehicles of service or even just to spend a few moments reflecting on how you have served others or they have served you. Let this exercise lead you where it may.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.