May 25 – The unintended benefit of giving service to others

May 25. “It’s one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I have volunteered for many organizations and causes in my life. Starting when I was in Boy Scouts working on weekend service projects, and continuing up to today when I participate in service days at work, there has been a wide and steady variety of ways that I have reached out to help people that I didn’t know. Closer to home, my wife and I have always been near the front of the line to help out friends when they were in need. It is just part of who we are.

I have experienced firsthand what this quote is describing. Every time I have helped someone else, there has been a reciprocal effect on myself, and I too have benefitted.

The earliest example of my taking time to help others was when I was about 14 years old. I was in Boy Scouts, and to advance in rank I had to complete service hours. That was the year of the Swine Flu “outbreak”. There had been some cases of swine flu detected, and there was a mass immunization of as many people as possible. I found out that volunteers were needed at a High School in the area, so I called in to sign up. This High School was a good 3 miles or more from my house, and I had to walk to get to it.

Once I was there, I was assigned to a line. There were probably a dozen of these lines where people would come through, roll up their sleeve, and have a doctor or nurse give them a shot. The shots came out of a hand held, reusable gun that was pressed against the skin. My job was to have a cotton swab ready, and place it on their skin when the gun was retracted, and then to guide them to the next person who would put a band aid on them.

The process was very repetitious and I worked for a good 3 hours. Most of the people who were getting the shot were elderly, and had waited in line themselves for quite some time. By the time they got to the front of the line they were tired and a little frustrated. I decided my job was not only to hand out cotton swabs, but also to give out as many smiles as I could. I spent my 3 hours being as friendly and engaging as I could.

At the end of that time, after standing on my feet and having walked 3 miles to get there, I was tired. And, I still had the walk home ahead of me. But I remember that I felt really good about the whole day. I believed that I was helping to save lives by immunizing all these people from the deadly flu. I walked home feeling somewhat energized. As it turns out, the swine flu never amounted to much, and the immunization efforts have been much maligned in years since.

In all the years that I have given service to others, I have always had a positive outcome for my own life. That’s never been the motivation behind the service, but I won’t lie when I tell you that it helps keep me coming back for more.

I once saw a poster for an organization that showed a man who was stooping down to help a child that was in a wheel chair. On the poster was the caption that read “A man never stands so tall as when he bends to help a child.” I can’t remember what organization that was for, but I can tell you that it has stuck with me.

In my formative years I was the beneficiary of many hours of service by others. In Cub and Boy Scouts there were volunteer leaders who took their time with me. I was in the Catholic Big Brothers organization, and my Big Brother gave up many weekends and evenings to spend time with me and help guide me to be who I am. It has been part of my life’s mission to give back as much as I can. I can never repay the individuals directly, so I have worked to “pay it forward”, to help others.

A few weeks back I mentioned that I need to find a volunteer opportunity for this fall. Once some of the craziness of my summer has subsided, I plan to get involved somewhere. I haven’t been as active in volunteering in recent years, and I truly do miss it. This quote is a good reminder to me to be looking for those opportunities.

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