Back in August my longtime colleague, Jane Sidders, signed up to volunteer on Thursday mornings in her grandson’s kindergarten class. She found herself helping the children write their names and became concerned about the ones unable to accomplish that task.
Since then, Jane has worked with those few students on writing and letter recognition. When we chat, she talks about her plans, calls the children by name, and reports on their progress. And, retired teacher that she is, she has discovered a purpose outside herself by putting her teaching skills back to use for a new generation.
Whether we call Jane’s Thursday morning activities volunteerism, community service, or just helping out, there is a lot of it going on all over the county – in many forms, for many reasons.
Champaign County’s 4-H program provides a perfect example. Paid staff members under the auspices of OSU Extension provide services and supervision, but the backbone of the program continues to be the 300 volunteer advisors who help kids “learn by doing.”
Shari Dill – like me, a former member – is still an advisor. She and I and my sister volunteered so that the children in our lives could participate in the 4-H tradition that meant so much to us. I agree with Shari that our efforts also allowed us to repay the community for the advantages we gained from our years as members.
Many individuals are willing to band together, to work as a team to help fellow community members. Such is the case with Habitat for Humanity here in Champaign County, through which Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words come to life: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
To realize that the efforts of hundreds of people, each doing one “small thing” – driving nails or providing lunch or donating to the ReStore – result in one “great thing” – the construction of an entire house for a community family – is to understand how powerful it is to be part of something bigger than oneself.
I always believed it important to help my students experience that “strength in numbers” aspect of volunteerism. As National Honor Society advisor, I worked with the NHS members to organize an annual blood drive.
After initial reactions related to fear of needles, the kids realized that every effort, not only blood donation, was essential for success. Each year we listened to Arleen Dalrymple from the Community Blood Center in Dayton speak passionately about the “gift of life.” We divvied up food needs for the canteen, assigned duties for bloodmobile day, and signed up donors. Through it all, the kids learned that if everyone does a little bit, no one has to do it all.
For years another fellow teacher, Sheila Prill, and the Students Making a Difference kids organized a Christmas family program, with district families receiving food and clothing collected by the service group.
SMD also encouraged other school groups to adopt a family for the holidays. One year my advanced German class pooled their own money to shop for the family they adopted: the guys bought for the boys in the family and the girls for the girls. Everyone went to great lengths to make the gift delivery special, tailored to the needs of the family.
They later described the family’s reactions in hushed tones: the bright-eyed excitement of the little children, the grateful tears of the parents, the first-hand observation of living conditions more difficult than their own. And they learned this truth expressed by Wale Ayeni: “Your life, no matter how hard it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.”
Time is often of the essence when a need arises. Recently the UDC reported the efforts by a dozen farm families to harvest acres of soy beans for a fellow farmer. They donated their equipment and time in the fields to close out the growing season for the grateful recipient.
It does not take huge effort to find someone in need. Throughout the county there are food pantries, classrooms, nursing homes, and youth groups that could use a helping hand or two.
Often it is the little things that mean so much. A crockpot supper is always a welcome contribution to someone otherwise occupied by a family emergency. At Hearth & Home I once saw a gal simply walk through the assisted living residence with a puppy borrowed from PAWS, and another time our 4-H club entertained the residents there with a fashion show of the summer’s sewing projects.
For myself, I knit hats to donate to children at Christmas. Marcia Ward, who volunteers as executive director of Habitat for Humanity, has graciously accepted my cross-stitched sampler for the new home on Harmon Avenue to be dedicated next month.
The only helpful “political” post I saw on Facebook during the long, bruising campaign just past is paraphrased here:
After the election, whoever the new President is will not arrive to help children with their reading or rake leaves for elderly neighbors, but WE can. WE can make our country whatever WE want because WE are the ones who shape our communities. If WE each do a little bit of good wherever WE are, those little bits of good together will overwhelm the world.
Let’s do it! Let’s overwhelm the world – one little bit of good at a time!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.