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Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

By Elizabeth Corbett, Programs & Membership Coordinator

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.

That quotation comes from Tom Brokaw, and this column will be about making a difference by volunteering. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t volunteering for something! I think I was about 8 or 9 years old when I first started volunteering to work in my church’s nursery, mainly because the twins Pamela and Cindy were there and fun to take care of. I continued to work in the nursery until I went away to college, and through church, we also served meals on a regular basis in Hartford (CT). In addition, I cleaned the apartment of an older woman who was blind and had crippling rheumatoid arthritis for several years. Ms. Corinne always said to me, “You make it smell good and clean now, Elizabeth.” And I did.

Happy November! Just like the falling leaves outside, I’m going to sprinkle this column with quotations about volunteering. Here’s one now from William James: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” I continued to belong to organizations that “made a difference” in college: participating in the CROP walk and raising money for hunger, selling baked goods to support Oxfam America, and organizing educational summits on campus around hunger issues in the Poughkeepsie (NY) area.

Westside has certainly done its share of volunteering through the years with so many different organizations: Family Promise, Angel Trees at Christmas, collecting food (and toiletry articles, winter coats, and children’s books among other items), cleaning up litter on Grigsby Chapel Road, providing tax help to area residents, supporting all the partners in Share the Plate–and these activities come in addition to all the volunteering people do at Westside by mowing, cooking, organizing, staying late, coming early, giving rides, playing piano, and serving on committees and the Board. I could go on, but another quotation is wiggling its way in: Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” I am both pleased and proud of the way Westside does for others.

Between now and Christmas, we have two more ways to give of ourselves. The first is by supporting five children with Family Promise. While I do not know yet the ages of the children and their preferences for gifts, I do know they’re all from the same family. Family Promise is experiencing some shake ups: Their executive director, the Rev. John Mark Brown (he delivered a service at Westside back in August) has resigned, and I found out yesterday that Scott Erwin, who was working with congregations as the Community Engagement Manager, has also left the Knoxville office. So, we are waiting on communication from Family Promise as they go through these changes, but when I get the information, I will make sure you all know! I envision that a group of us can shop and maybe meet at church to wrap and pass on some holiday love. Oh, Kofi Annan reminds us, “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.”

So we need some volunteers for the second project too–we are writing holiday messages to inmates through the UUA’s Church of the Larger Fellowship program. I have been writing to an inmate for about six months, and, well, I was pretty naive to say the least about “prison life,” and I have learned a lot! This program is totally secure in that inmates will not know your full name, address, or phone number. I have 8-1/2 by 11 sheets of paper with a generic holiday message that you can write on and add to. If you have a favorite poem, song lyrics, or saying that you want to print out, you may include that with your holiday message. Please DO NOT print in color or on colored paper. This weekend at Pickett, l will set up a table and be around it before and after meal times. In the next several weeks I’ll find a place where we can write more messages after the service. Maybe you have a favorite Dr. Seuss quotation to include with your message to an inmate? Here’s one I found by him about volunteering: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I know we Westsiders care a whole awful lot!

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Thank you, Elizabeth, for your very fulsome column on volunteerism. Even though I have moved up north to Connecticut, you continue to serve as an example and source of inspiration for the kind of person I continue to strive to be. Again, thank you. Rita

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