Imprisoned by fog that now seems permanent in Tacoma, I think about last Monday. On that morning the gray captor itself hid me as I slipped out of town on black ice. Over the bridge and north to Port Townsend I drove, never looking back, and in less than two hours I stood on a dock in Boat Haven, squinting into sunshine and a sky too blue for January.
“Let me take that from you,” said a voice above me. I saw the smiling face of someone already on board the old wooden schooner ADVENTURESS, reaching down for my bag. After passing it up I could grab the ladder, take the big step over water, and climb aboard. The gesture of lending a hand symbolized our purpose in being there. It was the National Day of Service. Along with other members of Sound Experience, the non-profit that owns the ninety-six-year-old ship, I’d come to spend the day doing maintenance, cleaning and repairs to this important piece of maritime history, so ADVENTURESS can continue in her current role: environmental education and youth leadership development. We naturally answered the call for help put out by Executive Director Catherine Collins, but so did a bunch of citizens who’d heard about the work party through an excellent story in the Peninsula Daily News, by Jeff Chew. Young and old, some had never been aboard a sailing ship but showed up anyway, saying “How can I help?” All were welcome. There was plenty of work to do, work money can’t buy, because there isn’t enough money to buy it.
President Obama, though not yet sworn in at the time, stressed the importance of this past Martin Luther King Day as a National Day of Service, and as presidents before him have done, asked citizens to help meet our country’s needs by volunteering. I am encouraged by figures indicating how Americans not only listened, but like the newcomers on ADVENTURESS, took action. Government statistics prove it was the largest such event ever, with over 12,100 volunteer projects, more than twice as many as last year. I’m encouraged because even before taking office our new president demonstrated leadership abilities strong enough to bring about that statistically demonstrable difference. Now it’s up to us.
Helping in a food bank, classroom, library or senior center may not seem like much compared to tackling huge issues like war and the economy. But volunteering matters. Ask the family in a small town whose burning house was saved by a volunteer fire department, the child struggling to learn to read, the nursing home resident, the recipients of Hospice care, the victims of disasters helped by the Red Cross, the club members who pick up freeway litter or organize canned food and clothing drives. Think especially of those risking their lives in war because they volunteered for military service. Each in their own way, Americans always come through when the need is there. I sanded spars and helped wash down a cabin.
A local nonprofit organization is a good place to find opportunities to help. Nonprofits contribute so much and struggle so hard, especially during tough times. When huge corporations fail, stores and factories close, and people lose their jobs, priorities change. Causes popular during more prosperous times, like helping the environment, can suffer. No matter what skills may or may not have, you can bring something of value to others as a volunteer, even if all you do is be a good listener or show some kindness. And if you have a certain interest, like I do in ADVENTURESS, with her historical significance and present purpose, you can pursue that interest while doing good.
As we begin 2009 during difficult times let us come together as a nation and each find a way to give at least a little of ourselves through volunteering. Years from now, when the child you mentored contributes to society, the tree you planted stands tall, your local salmon stream sparkles with clean water, the friendships you made have deepened, and maybe… just maybe… when our nation once again enjoys peace and prosperity, you might look back on these days as “the best of times” after all.
Some helpful links:
Corporation for National and Community Service
Volunteering in America
USA Freedom Corps
USA.gov for Nonprofits
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation
American Sail Training Association (ASTA)