ALL-VOL­UN­TEER ARMY

Giv­ing back, thou­sands of op­por­tu­ni­ties, find­ing very spe­cial peo­ple

RSWLiving - - CONTENTS - BY TERRY ALLEN WILLIAMS Terry Allen Williams is an itin­er­ant trav­eler, writer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

Giv­ing back, thou­sands of op­por­tu­ni­ties, find­ing very spe­cial peo­ple

Ihave never been much for vol­un­teer­ing. Some­body wants you to do some­thing, they should pay for it. But now that I have reached that ripe old age that some call “re­tire­ment,” I have been re­con­sid­er­ing the vol­un­teer idea from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. And this is prob­a­bly why “vol­un­teer­ing,” some­times called “pay­ing back” to the com­mu­nity, is such a big thing in South­west Florida. There are count­less vol­un­teers in our area, an army of us, in fact, many well past the nor­mal work­ing age. But we are still mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the many or­ga­ni­za­tions de­pend­ing on vol­un­teer la­bor, such as the Harry Chapin Food Bank, an­i­mal shel­ters, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity, schools, the Sal­va­tion Army … and the list goes on and on.

As it turned out, I was to photograph a Nations As­so­ci­a­tion Char­i­ties din­ner at the Shriner Hall in Fort My­ers. The group cel­e­brates its 38-year an­niver­sary in May. Aside from my pro­fes­sional du­ties, I wanted to talk with vol­un­teers at the din­ner, get feed­back on why they do such a thing.

I first meet Linda and Kent Yoder, rep­re­sent­ing the Sani­bel Com­mu­nity Church. I watch as they serve food to lines of par­ents and chil­dren seated at in­dis­tin­guish­able ta­bles in the mas­sive hall. There must be a thou­sand peo­ple at this seat­ing; an­other thou­sand are out­side wait­ing for the sec­ond din­ner. “I think it is part of be­ing a true Chris­tian,” Kent Yoder tells me. “The idea that giv­ing is more im­por­tant than re­ceiv­ing.”

His wife agrees. “It re­ally is more en­joy­able giv­ing to oth­ers,” she says. “Vol­un­teer­ing in this way al­lows us to put our Chris­tian be­liefs into reality.”

Later on, when they start to hand out gifts, I ob­serve a par­tic­u­larly en­er­getic young woman or­ga­niz­ing the kids. Kristi Fur­row is filled with an abun­dance of en­ergy she gra­ciously shares with the chil­dren un­der her charge. She is also with the Sani­bel Com­mu­nity Church. “I think it is a lot of fun," she

says, beaming. "It is good for the soul."

And this seems to be the con­sen­sus at the din­ner and other sim­i­lar events I have cov­ered in the past. There is def­i­nitely some­thing to be said for the adage, "It is bet­ter to give than to re­ceive."

I have seen enough. It’s time for me to vol­un­teer for some­thing. I in­ves­ti­gate the many op­por­tu­ni­ties in South­west Florida―lit­er­ally thou­sands of them―de­cid­ing that serv­ing food at a soup kitchen might be up my al­ley. I head over to the Nations As­so­ci­a­tion of­fices on Palm Beach Boule­vard in Fort My­ers, to vol­un­teer, dis­ap­pointed to find they had stopped their soup kitchen pro­gram.

“Catholic Char­i­ties is still do­ing it,” Lucy Shep­herd, 85, tells me. Shep­herd is a slen­der, gray­haired lady with a twin­kle in her eye. When I tell her I am do­ing a piece on vol­un­teerism, she pipes up: “I have been vol­un­teer­ing for a long time.”

She ex­plains that when she worked for Lee County years ago, the Rev. Is­rael Suarez walked in and made a pitch for sup­port­ing the Nations As­so­ci­a­tion. “I was so im­pressed,” she says. “I went right over there and vol­un­teered. And here I am, how many years later?”

And when Shep­herd is not in­volved at Nations As­so­ci­a­tion, work­ing with their many pro­grams to aid dis­ad­van­taged youth, she is vol­un­teer­ing at Tor­tuga Ele­men­tary School. “I re­tired from my job many years ago,” she tells me. “But I never re­tired from vol­un­teer­ing.” “Why do you do it?” I ask. “Vol­un­teer­ing keeps you young, “she says. “And when you don’t have to work for money any­more, you can work for love.” “How do you mean?” I ask. “The kids re­pay you with their love. And I can’t think of any greater pay­ment than that.”

So, while I am sort­ing vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties, I am in­spired by these amaz­ing peo­ple. Money is one thing, I’ve learned, and it is im­por­tant most of our lives, but when it is no longer the driv­ing force be­hind our ev­ery move, we can find other ways to make our lives mean­ing­ful.

“Work for love,” I say to Lucy Shep­herd. “That’s the essence of the whole thing, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she agrees. “That’s what it means to be a vol­un­teer.”

There are count­less vol­un­teers in our area, an army of us, in fact, many well past the nor­mal work­ing age.

There are some 3,900 non­prof­its in South­west Florida, an as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties to do­nate time and money.

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