By Ralph Trenary
Almost 14 years ago I completed an intense week of personally demanding instruction. But, U.S. military concepts weren’t included. I was in Salt Lake City, Utah learning about time management and life management from a former Olympic athlete.
One of the key concepts I had to master was prioritizing my time, and gaining the discipline to only give time to what matters most. After completing that training I used part of the next four years teaching that material to my co-workers. Now I’m realizing this discipline gives me enough control over my time to give it away.
This past week I was confronted by an unexpectedly high number of stories about volunteering. First, there was the realization that our distinguished soldier Justin Bauer had volunteered to serve in the Army just as I had when I enlisted over 26 years ago. Then I read reports on community volunteering projects connected to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observances. The final case was the story of the airline flight attendants who volunteer during layovers at orphanages in impoverished African nations. Check out www.skyoflove.org for details, or read Gary Massaro’s Rocky Mountain News column from Jan. 22, 2009, “Love of Volunteering Takes Wing.”
Sitting back and soaking all of this in brought on a “what about me” moment of reflection and analysis. What does it mean to volunteer your time, talents and energy at the levels I had just read about? I realized months ago that I am at the “just getting started” level of volunteering when I read the details of a friend’s obituary (“New Friends,” my column from Nov. 13, 2008). Since then I’ve been a little more aware of when I am contributing without an expectation of getting cash back into my pocket.
My current list includes boxing donations for the Food Bank for Larimer County, the “pass it on” runs to the donations line at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store, the School Accountability Committee meetings and playing “Taps” for local funerals. All of these require the expenditure of my time, some extra driving in the pick-up and usually some other minor expenses. Worth every penny, drop of sweat or other activity that has to be rescheduled.
That’s the part that makes me appreciate what is seemingly a societal shift in attitude and behavior about volunteering. My wife, the Supreme High Household Commander, made a short career of volunteering her time at the kids’ elementary schools. Without her donated time a certain group of fifth-graders would not have had a weekly session of accelerated mathematics. I’ll stick to chaperoning middle-schoolers on field trips, thank you!
Here’s the bottom line: what does it hurt any of us to volunteer a few hours a week or month to ensure the achievement of something we find important, or even just sustained for a little longer? In 20 years will it really matter if you watched every first-run hour of a hit TV show? Somehow I am confident that the hours I spend at the school going over the CSAP tests results and the wording of the questions on the safety survey will have more of an impact than sitting through 43 minutes of producer-manipulated “reality” and 17 minutes of commercials.
Look around, check in with local activities and organizations you find important and give a few hours of volunteering a try. The point where you may catch yourself saying “I wish I would have” may be closer than you think.