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kid-with-trophyPeriodically people send me forms to nominate a volunteer for some sort of recognition and award. Immediately I think, “oh good, a chance to showcase the volunteers,” then I start to mentally scroll through the volunteers, looking for that perfect one to nab that coveted engraved plaque. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the retelling of a volunteer’s deeds is as much a part of their winning as the actual deeds themselves. Their story needs to grab the judge, or it should show the overcoming of the odds, or it needs to be some unusual type of volunteering. It seems as though dismissing the every day volunteering in order to award reality TV type volunteering is the antithesis of good, solid volunteering, but everyday good work is just not very exciting, is it?
There are any number of volunteers who would make great candidates for that cute trophy, but their day-to-day boring altruism does not quite merit a second look by judges who can’t experience their stories firsthand. These volunteers will never walk up on that podium and never hold that lump of highly polished metal, but in my mind’s eye, they hold so much more.

So, here and now, I nominate these volunteers for “Heroes Amongst Us.”

I nominate Madge, for the Hero With Guts award. Madge told me a few weeks ago that she would be cutting down on her volunteering in our crafts program. See, Madge was at a gas station where she met a man, Harold. buying a sandwich. They struck up a conversation in which Harold said that he had just lost his home and was living in his van. Harold appeared to be in his late fifties, and had fallen on hard times after losing a job and dealing with cancer. “He was so honest,” Madge said, “so completely void of complaints that I asked him if he would accept a few dollars from me and he refused. He said he had a bit of savings left, but needed to completely recover from cancer before he could find a job again. And I don’t know what possessed me, but I told him to follow me home, that I had a spare room he could sleep in until he got on his feet.” Madge shook her head at what the rest of the world would perceive as folly and smiled. “His cancer came back with a vengeance. He has no one, so I’m going to care for him until he dies.”

I nominate Sheri and Paul for the Heroes Who Love More award. Several years ago, Sheri took a job in a large nursing home as a receptionist. Widowed for a number of years, Sheri had raised her four children and was now an empty nester at age 53. Having worked in a corporate world, she wanted to slow down a bit and savor a job that took a different set of people skills. She embraced the residents, and in between duties, spent time listening to each one as they wheeled by her station. “And then one day, I saw him,” Sheri said, her eyes coming alive at the memory, “Paul, a resident with MS. He was being wheeled into the dining room by one of the staff. He looked up at me with the most devilish grin. At that moment, I knew I had to talk to him.” And talk they did. Paul was only 48, a younger man with no family in a sea of another generation’s Big Band Music and Ice Cream Shoppes. They got to know one another in between her phone calls and other duties and Sheri fell in love. “He didn’t belong there, not in my mind,” she said. And so, she married him, took him out of the facility and into her home. That was ten years ago. Sheri and Paul volunteer together. Although they are careful not to take assignments that might physically tax Paul, the two of them are dedicated inspirational volunteers. Paul is one of the funniest men ever and it is easy to see why Sheri lights up when she takes his arm. “We have faith,” she says, “faith in a higher power’s order of things and faith in each other. I don’t know what will come in five or ten years, and I don’t care. We have one another.”

These are our volunteers. They are folks from down the street, across the bridge and beyond the sea. They look at life as how they fit into the scheme of things, how they can make the world better for unseen children. They cast a wide net of kindness and we are lucky to occupy a small corner of that net.

There’s Brad, who cared for two wives with debilitating illnesses. When I would talk to him on the phone, he’d be soothing his wife so gently that I couldn’t believe this was the same man who ran a company.
There’s Simone, who, after volunteering for a single mother, went out and started a small non-profit to help single mothers.
There’s Ginny, who, at the young age of 17 is helping care for a sick brother while attaining straight A’s in her studies.
I could go on and on and I bet you can too. What awards will these volunteers ever hold? How many hours helping mankind are not counted and are we, the volunteer manager who sees their kindness spread like cream stirred into coffee, content with just the knowing?

Volunteer Awards are normally based on what is done. If, instead, awards were based on the core of a volunteer’s being, on who they are, it would be impossible to pick any one person over another. And maybe, that would be the point.