Make Service A Priority In 2012!

Posted on January 3, 2012

This blog was written by VSH’s volunteer resources manager, Alison Jones-Nassar.

According to some recent surveys, nearly one out of every two Americans starts the New Year by making at least one resolution. Some common new year’s resolutions include losing weight, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, getting out of debt, saving more money, and going on a trip. It seems that many of us want to feel better about ourselves somehow, and exercising more control over our bodies, finances, and leisure time are three common starting points for trying to achieve that goal.

My new year started with a memorial service.

My deceased brother’s wife’s sister-in-law died of complications from lung & breast cancer at the end of December after battling her illness for more than two years, and so we gathered on January 2nd to celebrate her memory.

The service was very inspiring, as one friend after another stood before the assembly to give testimony concerning Debbe’s great enthusiasm for service to the community. “When our lives are over, how do we really want to be remembered by others?” asked the pastor. “Isn’t the impact that we have on those around us the only thing that truly matters?”  I found myself resolving, right then and there, to ask myself that question every day and make sure that my actions reflected my determination to make service a priority.

There is no shortage out there of people in need of our service, and we need not restrict our idea of service to big grand circumstances. Whether we are among family members or work colleagues, serving our congregations or our less fortunate neighbors, life presents us every day with endless opportunities for kind words, compassionate gestures, consoling embraces, and supportive acts both great and small. But especially the small ones.

Tom Allen, in last Saturday’s Faith & Values column, wrote about a woman “whose life had come to a very precarious place,” someone who was homeless, sick, penniless, and in search of a friend who could help her “begin the difficult process of trying to turn her life around.”  Someone, in other words, just like the people we serve at Virginia Supportive Housing.

The bad news is that this particular story didn’t end well, and the individual died of an apparent self-inflicted drug overdose. When hope and help come too late, that is often the result.

The good news is that VSH offers weekly, monthly, and episodic opportunities for volunteers to bring hope and help to the lives of our formerly homeless clients, so that their stories can have better endings. All you have to do is resolve to make service a priority and then put that resolution into practice one act of service at a time.

I assure you, it’s not as hard or scary as it might sound, and the reward far outweighs the commitment.

During the holidays I experienced a powerful affirmation of why service to our clients matters. A group of tenants and volunteers was hanging decorations at one of our properties, and Christmas music was playing on the little boombox. I noticed that the familiar carols, so comforting & festive for so many of us, seemed to be having a decidedly melancholy effect on one usually cheerful & talkative tenant.

As time went on, she grew quieter and her expression grew sadder. I reached over to lightly touch her shoulder and ask if she was okay, and she abruptly stood up and wrapped her arms around me in a fierce hug. We stood like that for a minute, both of us just breathing, before she whispered, “My daughter just hugged me through you, and I can’t thank you enough.” It turns out that her daughter had passed away three years ago at Christmas time under difficult circumstances, and the music was a painful reminder to her of that unbearable loss. As a mother of three daughters, I felt privileged to be able to serve her with such a simple yet profound gesture. And in a similar situation, I could not imagine a more valuable gift.

At the end of his column, Tom Allen concludes that “one of the reasons we’re here is to help each other. We’ve got to keep getting better at it.” I agree, and I’m sure Debbe would too. We can have an impact on the lives of others in 2012. We can be the face of compassion for those who need it most. And our own lives can be blessed in the process. All it takes is a resolution.

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