Tag Archives: volunteer

Just Ask

IMG_4708

Addressing envelopes is one of my favorite volunteer gigs. In addition to improved penmanship, it gives me a productive but relaxing vibe, almost percussive.  I enjoy falling into the hum of a wandering mind while writing out names and addresses in whatever handwriting style I’ve adopted for the day. These cerebral meanderings take place several times a year, when I help Leadership Augusta mail invitations or letters to their alumni family.  There are over 1,300 past graduates of the program, at least 800 of whom are still within our reach to contact. The remaining have either passed away, moved away, become MIA, or asked to not be involved. Every year 30-40 new names are added to the books. We try to send correspondence to everyone we can, with the hopes of keeping the program sustainable.

I enjoy seeing the names of these alums each year. Some are good friends I know well, some are people I have met only briefly, others I have never met but feel like I know after writing their information on invoices and invitations so many times. I delight in seeing the new names, recent graduates with their alumni future shining brightly in front of them. I wonder if they will attend events, become involved in the community, encourage others to participate in this leadership program affiliated with the Augusta Chamber of Commerce, which has been in existence since 1980.

During this year’s dues invoicing, writing out envelopes led me to ponder how vastly different the LA experience has been for everyone who has graduated. We were all exposed to behind-the-scenes glimpses into what makes Augusta tick, hearing insights into such topics as criminal justice, healthcare and education. We were all encouraged to use our leadership skills not just within the bubbles of our own diverse industries, but also to venture into other territories in the community which might be in need of our talents. In the years which follow this grand networking adventure, however, the responses vary greatly. Many of us pay dues, attend luncheons, volunteer on future classes and serve on charitable boards, while others continue with their lives, unchanged. The range of involvement spans from the people whose lives are transformed, to those who contribute only briefly, to those who never offer their time or their financial support.

My personal Leadership Augusta story was one of the transformations. I served on the board, volunteered with the alumni committee, recruited new leaders to apply.  I consider my Leadership Augusta experience to be the best thing I have done professionally, one that enhanced my confidence at work, as well as brightened the stamp on my community service efforts. I am grateful to this organization for introducing me to the opportunities which gave voice to my talents, and ultimately, to my life’s purpose, which is, simply, to be a blessing to others.

Knowing what Leadership Augusta has meant in my life, and knowing that it has not been that for everyone, I contemplate the reasons for this broad spectrum of impact while I write on these envelopes. For my experience, I have 3 people specifically to thank. Had I not met these people, my Leadership Augusta experience would be just a pleasant memory from the late 90’s era. If they had not voiced their faith in me, I, too, would have sat shyly behind the scenes and lamented that I passed through the program, unchanged. In the 38-year history of the organization, I realize that I am in a small minority who can say my life was touched in a profound way. I indebted to the 3 people who bravely said, “I think this girl has something to offer.”

The first is Woody Merry, a graduate of the class of 1987, who nominated me to participate in the first place. Our interaction prior to that was minimal (perhaps serving on a political campaign together, if I recall correctly), but he must have seen some potential, and I thank him for that initial leap of faith. The next Angela champion, and the most significant, was Brenda Durant. She was in my class of 1999, and ever since then has been an awesome connector who throws my name into the hat for projects in the community. One of them, Celebrate 2000, was the catalyst for the creation of VolunteerAugusta.com, which connects charities and volunteers. Finally, Bryan Quinsey was the Leadership Augusta Coordinator in 2002 who recommended me to the Board of Directors, the start of a 12-year term of service. He must have seen something in me when we served together on the Red Carpet Tour during Masters week, and I’m forever thankful that he did.

Sometimes one person is all it takes. By nominating someone for a position or program, inviting them to join you on a project, or encouraging them to get involved, you can be the difference between a memory and a potential metamorphosis. During the interviews referenced in my last blog about Leadership Augusta ( Angela’s LA journey ), I asked a bank president why she never got involved in the organization after graduation. Her reply was profoundly straightforward: “Because nobody asked me to.” It only takes one person to reach out to another and vouch for their gifts, or let them know they are needed. We can make our volunteer organizations stronger and enrich one another’s feelings of connection and engagement. No matter how trivial the job might seem, there is a person in your circle of influence who would appreciate being nominated, who is hoping to be included. Take the time and just ask. I am indebted to my three champions for their initial encouragement, and to the current board of Leadership Augusta, who continue to reach out to me. I hope they continue to ask me to jump in, as well as the many other alumni members who are ready to get involved. For the meditative benefits alone, I would be happy to address envelopes for years to come.

“Be a Rick” Results

After my year of incredible blessings, I promised I would take the spirit of holiday giving to new heights.   (See blog “Be a Rick” http://volunteeraugusta.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/be-a-rick  )  So now is the moment of truth; it is time to admit if my actions covered the big check my words wrote. The final report for Project Holiday 2011 is simply this: Mission Accomplished. But I gotta tell you, I am utterly exhausted.

My mantra for the season echoed the movie “Yes Man”. I would say yes to each opportunity that was presented, and seek out different ways to help. For example, every retail store cashier asking for a charity donation got my money. One shocked cashier at Publix, after selling me a $5 bag of food for the needy, yelled at his co-worker across the store, “I finally sold one!” In truth, his sales pitch had been so flat and quiet, that I barely understood what he was asking. I believe it went like this (imagine an almost inaudible voice): “Would you like to buy a something-something for something-something?”  I learned that he had tried all day with no success, and his discouragement had contributed to a selling style I now affectionately refer to as, “half-hearted mumbling”. My positive reply to his request is what we in the car business refer to as a “lay-down”, meaning that the sale was going to happen no matter what. You have to really make a major faux-pas to alienate a lay-down buyer, nothing short of cursing or spitting will cause them to say no.

I was a lay-down for volunteering also. Every request for donating my time was answered in the affirmative. Ring the bell for Salvation Army? Sure! Help sort donated toys for needy families? Absolutely! Deliver food to elderly shut-ins? You bet. I also sought out the chance to work at the soup kitchen a couple of times. At the mention of any charity needing help recruiting volunteers, I would start sending email blasts and making facebook posts. My poor friends were probably thinking, “Enough already! We get that you like to volunteer, but do you have to always drag us into your reindeer games?”

My co-workers were recruited into the reindeer games, as well. They joined me in the toy-sorting and bell-ringing volunteer gigs, and were all amazingly generous and helpful. When asked to sponsor needy kids, and they stepped up to the plate. Normally my dealership is good for 3-4 kids, tops. This year we covered 18. There was some last-minute scrambling to get it pulled together, but we did it. One of them even told me why our efforts meant so much to him: 35 years ago, he was on the receiving end. He knew what it was like to have a shoe box of donated toys. When you realize that each toy, each volunteer hour, each donated dollar, makes a difference to a real child on Christmas day, it hits home. Sometimes when I am shopping for an adopted kid and think that I have enough, I visualize that child on Christmas morning. Perhaps just one more small gift will be the item that really makes them happy. Maybe they will be excited to receive some play-dough, or some markers, or a slinky, the way I always was when I was that age.

Finally, I convinced my company to take the typical donation drive to the next level. This was not hard to do, as Jim Hudson Lexus is passionate about community service. But I’m not sure even they imagined what I had in mind. While we had frequently held a toy drive, or food drive, or a collection of travel-size toiletries, we had never coordinated a full-on effort to collect everything at once. That is what we did with our “15 Gifts of Christmas” campaign. We found 15 charities who needed various items, and agreed to help recruit those donations. We promoted the need for the community to donate everything from socks for Rape Crisis, to diapers for SafeHomes, to tshirts for Hale House and crayons for the Art Factory. All totaled, 15 non-profits asking for a combination of 30 different items. We set up a huge Santa Sleigh display right at the front door, and pushed for donations for a solid month. Every time a customer or friend (or my mom!) came in with more items, we were thrilled. These were all items these organizations needed, and by getting them donated, it was one less thing they had to buy.

In the end, I am very pleased with the 2011 Christmas charity campaign. Of course, the downside is that I have not done one thing for my own holiday, so there is some catching-up to be done with my personal shopping and decorating. But overall, despite the exhaustion and the personal delays, I am proud to report that I was able to reach my goal of aggressive giving-back activities. Who knows, when my shopping is done, I may even take a cue from the generous K-Mart shoppers who are anonymously paying off stranger’s Christmas layaways. Seems like lots of people were blessed in 2011 and wanted to give back, too. It is, after all, what Christmas is all about.