Giving Back

“Why are you still volunteering and helping out those kids? You’re retired now, and, they aren’t your kids. They shouldn’t be your worry.”

Someone asked me that the other day, their words strong, edgy with bitterness. They were wondering why I was helping others out in the community, giving of my time, helping other make something of their life. It wasn’t my job, right?

I was taken aback. After all, being involved in my community is something I’ve always done.

As a kid, I’d help with chores, or run an errand or mow the neighbor’s lawn when they were gone, or feed their pets. I’d help out on my grandparents’ farm, and get involved in some project. At dinner, there’d sometimes be an extra kid, and a little more love flying around the kitchen table. When there was a need, you just did what was needed. No questions asked.

That idea of helping in the community has always just been part of my life. It never occurred to me to me to wonder why, or think that being helpful wasn’t just part of living in a small town, or even the world.

Other people helped me, without me asking, too. It is just what we do. When I was a kid, a lot of people gave me the support I needed to apply myself, set goals, and work hard. And, when it is my turn to be the cheerleader, that voice of encouragement, I speak up, and I take action.

This summer, I’ve spent some time helping a young man focus on getting ready to start his junior year at a university. He’s worked hard the last few years, taking on line classes, and doing well, making time to study and write his papers in between all the other demands of his busy life.

Now, he’s able to actually be on campus, sit in a class and be involved in college life. He’s making that transition from the technology and isolation of a computer, to the excitement and interaction of a busy university campus. And, I’ve made the time to be supportive, to sit down with him and his advisors, watch him plan his schedule, and attend to the countless details that are needed to be a successful college student. It’s tough doing that on your own, and when you’re the first one in your family going to college, it’s also lonely and scary.

He’s not my kid, but then, again, he is, an important part of my family. He’s lived in my village, he’s part of my community, and his brains and ambition are part of the real treasure we have in our young people. He’s everyone’s kid. When he gets smarter, the village gets smarter, and we all benefit.

He’s already a leader and a problem solver. He’s got the ambition and moxie to move ahead in his life, and to realize his dreams. I want that energy building our village, and our country. I want that kind of problem solving and leadership out in the world, taking on the tough problems, and thinking outside of the box.

The little I do, some words of encouragement, a trip to the campus, a visit to the bookstore, and a steady hand on his shoulder when the path gets a little rocky, is about the best investment I can make in the future. And, not just his future. His future successes and smart ideas, and focused leadership is also going to improve my life, and make my village a better place to live.

I’ve received, and I’ve given back. I’ve come full circle in the helping one’s neighbor view of the world. I’ve seen the planting, and the harvest, season after season. That kind of farm work, the raising up of others to achieve their dreams, and to reach for the stars, is what we are here for.

And, in the end of all that care and compassion for our fellow humankind, we might even end up with a better world for everyone.

Neal Lemery, 10/1/2013

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