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Archive for the ‘volunteering’ Category


The perfect antidote to the election debacle blues is being part of a group of humanity volunteering to help come back from the catastrophic fires that consumed thousands of acres of Smoky Mountain wilderness, devoured homes and stole the lives of people and animals, while creating homelessness and unemployment. Helping others restored my spirit today.

packing1People helping people is the gift of disasters, if there could possibly be one. My heart swelled with admiration at the hundreds of people who labored today to be of service.   We unpacked bags, built boxes, sorted and stuffed necessities into the new boxes and helped to traffic them through to those in dire need. We were a human assembly line that had one purpose in mind. Get it done quickly and efficiently so it all can be used.packers1

The first stop is registration at the volunteer center where we filled out forms, showed official identity and were then given numbers and assigned to locations. I am #04016 sent to the distribution warehouse.

titanicSurrealism begins when we pull into a warehouse provided pro-bono by the owners situated across the street from the “Titanic” attraction in this popular tourist city of Pigeon Forge. It’s the honky-tonk Vegas of Tennessee, part of the triad of visitors’ destinations that includes Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Or most recently known as the home of the devastating fires.

The National Guard is here in their military attire. shrinkwrappalletsThey’re the transportation system of the highly organized operation at the warehouse. They’re the guys unloading the trucks filled with donations and sending them through to the warehouse. Then they pick up the finished sorted goods, take them out to reload trucks then sent to the “department store” building for a deeper re-sort into children’s clothes, men, women, warm weather, winter, food, necessities.receiving

Our jobs in the warehouse are to unload the bags and sort the contents into food, beverages, toiletries, used and new clothes and winter clothes. Dave somebody is in charge of the warehouse and he’s a volunteer who’s turned that warehouse into a well-oiled, efficient assembly line of stuff and volunteers.

packers1 createboxAll our materials have been donated, including the building centers of organization. Then there are pallets, boxes, dollies, tape, magic markers and food for the volunteers that are plentiful. Since this disaster has not been officially declared a disaster area, there’s no money to spend. So generous people are rising to the occasion. It’s truly awe-inspiring.

My friend Jo and I first taped together boxes. And when there were none left we joined the groups who were filling the boxes with sorted materials. First beverages and food and then on to clothing. These groups were all self-gathering. We just went to the marked areas and started working, strangers becoming friends united by a cause. Newly stuffed and marked boxes get stacked on pallets and when the stack gets about five feet high, National Guardsmen shrink wrap the pallets and take them outside to be loaded into trucks. In it comes through the back, and out it goes from the front. I talked to a man from Cincinnati who used a week’s vacation time to work in the center. He’s been coming to Gatlinburg since he was a kid and he felt driven to participate in the restoration. Companies sent their employees to help. Private citizens gave their time. We were all equal in this mission to serve.packers3

packer4I am overwhelmed by the generosity of neighbors. No partisanship, no religious affiliation, no discrimination. Just compassionate humans who recognize that there but by the grace of circumstance go I.

stuffedboxes

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Contribution to society always meant paycheck to me.  I fell into a profession that had the power to influence people:  their activities and their impressions.  And that always felt like my noble calling.  The shows I created and produced touched people’s lives, not always in a good way (I’m not proud to admit), but usually so.  We had the privilege of being public advocates for current affairs, offering up ideas for consideration and inspiration, creating community activities and entertaining people in their spare time.  I loved playing to a mass audience; it felt like an important public service and provided me years of meaningful work and an increasingly healthy livelihood.

Then I stopped working.  No more public platform to exercise my creative juices and throw hours and hours into devising concepts.  Every morning offered a blank canvas with a glaringly empty “to-do” list.  Nobody relied on me, no deadlines existed, no emergencies reared their heads, no more constantly ringing phone…  Now what?

Now… began to mean living each day its own way and reflecting on the kinds of things that offered me meaning, joy, independence, and stimulation.  So far, today is a life that includes playing with my pets, some travel, reading, yoga, meditation, exercise, yard work, cooking, friends, writing and volunteering.

Volunteering?  I never offered my services for free during my “job” years.  First, where would the time come from?  The few hours of weekend I had to myself were devoted to errands and stuff like laundry and bill paying.  Volunteering was what homemakers did.  (Sorry if that offends anyone, no offense intended – just some truth telling.)  It didn’t feel big to me or influential or important.  And then I saw some listings in the local paper that started to resonate.

Tennessee’s largest horse rescue was holding an open house, a chance to visit their rehabilitated horses now available for adoption.  I’ve always loved horses, use to ride them and have even yearned for my own.  When I went for a visit I was overwhelmed with admiration for the volunteers’ selfless devotion to helping such magnificent creatures.  I’d only experienced healthy, loved horses that were well taken care of.  I had no idea that people starved their animals or left them to die on mountains.  So now I’m among those who nurse these horses back to health.  It’s hard to articulate how these animals make me feel and how their recoveries, both physically and emotionally, offer such satisfaction and meaning.  They need us.  For them, it’s a question of life or death.  What’s more important than that?  And the fact that this organization can’t subsist without our unpaid help makes my contribution all that more necessary.  It’s a feeling I never had when I got my paychecks.

Passion for me has always included animals.  I find their vulnerability encourages the same from me.  There are no facades when communicating with animals, only genuine interaction that teases my heart wide open.  Authentic relationships are the only kinds that matter to me.  Anything else is a waste of time and energy in this short life span we’re offered.

It’s that kind of genuine relationship that also attracted me to hospice work.  If there’s ever a time when a human being needs an attentive presence, it’s during one’s countdown to the end of life.  And so I’m also, now, a hospice companion volunteer.  My patients meet me when they’ve chosen to stop medical intervention for their diseases and, instead, to face death with palliative care.  Hospice is a gift to the human species; their nurses and aides are among the most compassionate people I’ve ever met.  I consider them heroes.  My role is as the patient’s friend, an empathetic ear with no familial baggage or preconceived assumptions.  We talk … we cry… we tell stories…  I listen.

With an elderly woman whose passion for reading was pre-empted by deteriorating eyes, I read aloud.  With an intellectually disabled man, my age – we assembled children’s puzzles, I read him picture books and offered encouragement for the days when he’d “be better;” he didn’t understand the extent of his disease.  With a senior gentleman who would not live to mentor his young grandson into manhood, I listened to his sorrow that went unexpressed with his family.  Does that sound like time meaningfully spent?  I find it incredibly humbling and an un-paralleled learning experience.

Volunteering is a mundane phrase for a mammoth job.  It’s influential, inspiring, meaningful and vital.  And the fact that I don’t get paid makes it that much richer.

What offers meaning to your life?  And how have impressions about satisfying that charge changed over the years?  I’d love to hear about it.

And if Tennessee’s horse rescue intrigues you, please visit their website at horsehaventn.org.    And you can see their video story on You Tube athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-DLMKETHFY

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