If you drive past Rockfish Presbyterian Church at 8:30 a.m. on most Tuesdays during the winter, you will see a small group of men splitting wood, tossing it into the back of a large white pickup truck, and frequently making fun of each other. They are part of the church’s Wood Ministry and the goal is to provide heat for those who can’t afford it. They’ve also built strong friendships along the way that make it acceptable to make fun of each other.
When we moved to Nelson County about six months ago, I met a few of the men who attended Rockfish Presbyterian Church. I was explaining, in a somewhat arrogant and not-exactly-Christian way, that I had served on almost every committee in my last church. Sam Alexander, chief woodcutter, said, “I bet you haven’t served on a Wood Ministry.”
Not only was he was right, serving on a wood ministry sounded a lot better than serving on a committee that argued about church policy or what color the carpet in the sunday school rooms should be. So, I decided to check the wood guys out.
On my first morning, we took a truck load of wood to an older couple who lived in the woods about two miles from my house. The road to their house was muddy, their roof was leaking and not only could they not afford to buy wood, they both had serious lifelong hearing impairments. When we pulled up to the house, the husband met us at the door and with a speech pattern I recognized as typical of someone who had a lifetime of hearing loss, said, “I’m so glad you’re here. We haven’t had heat for three days.”
This was one of those life moments that woke me up and reminded me that things are not always what they seem. For instance, I live a blessed but sheltered life. I have a job, a wonderful family and a nice house. My comfortable environment can prevent me from encountering others who may not be so lucky. Also, being out of sight does not mean being out of reach. There are many people who need assistance, in one form or another, and many are literally just down the road. And lastly, I can be a bit protective of my time and resources when I could just as easily share them with others.
Volunteering, as I’ve done with the Wood Ministry, is a great way to get out of my comfort zone and venture into a world where I can share what I have as a way to help others. And ironically, I should not need to be reminded of this because I’ve been a volunteer for much of my life.
In college, I was in a co-ed national service fraternity called Alpha Phi Omega (APO). During the school year, our fraternity performed community service projects every Saturday morning throughout the year. I’m more impressed by that accomplishment now than I was at the time. Of course when I was in college, we did use beer as an incentive to get people out on a Saturday morning. Luckily, a Budweiser doesn’t have that early morning appeal that it once did.
Similar to my APO experience, my father was in Rotary, the world’s largest service organization, for over 50 years. He participated in many community service projects over the years and his volunteer service had an influence on me. I too was a member of a Rotary club for about twelve years.
So, volunteering has been a part of my life since I was a teenager.
Early in my career, I viewed volunteering as an “add on.” In other words, it was something I did in addition to my work and personal responsibilities. Then, about 10 years ago, I was totally overwhelmed with too many volunteer roles I had taken on. I was chairing several church committees, running a couple of events for my Rotary club and was president of the local chapter of the National Speakers Association. It was too much. So, did I cut back? Yes, but not exactly in the way you would expect.
I decided to re-frame my volunteer approach. Instead of looking at volunteering as something I did in addition to my job, I decided that volunteering should be part of my job. In other words, as a business owner, volunteering became a part of my business model.
So now, when I have a heavy volunteer load, which happens now and then, I don’t see it any differently than I would if my business work load was particularly heavy, as it is now and then. The re-framing led me away from seeing volunteering as an add-on burden to seeing volunteering as part of who I am and what I do.
Can you imagine the work we could accomplish if everyone chose to embrace volunteerism as part of what they do? I’m not suggesting that you spend hours and hours each week volunteering. Instead, I’m suggesting that if you’re not already volunteering, you commit just 1 hour a week to an activity where you give of your time or resources. If 1000 people did that, we’d have a huge impact on our respective communities.
Then, if you take one more step and encourage everyone you know to do the same, like I’m doing now, the power of the message would multiply and engage even more people to volunteer.
That would be pretty cool.