By Michelle Niedens
When I was about 12, I recall vividly my mother leading a charge to save the junior high bandshell. “History can walk alongside new,” she said. She reflected on the kindness of the philanthropist who made that bandshell happen and the energy of music pouring out to audiences from that stage, whether to bolster our local team or a shared community moment. Upon hearing that the news station from the nearby larger community was sending a reporter and photographer to interview her in front of the bandshell, she immediately went into action mode. The bandshell, after all, must be presented in the best possible light. The trash and debris accumulated in its years of neglect must vanish.
As a person with many health challenges, she enjoyed the vision but not the strength to accomplish that task, and luckily had an available daughter who she could persuade to assist. It was not what I planned for that Saturday morning, but saying no to my mother was not in my vernacular. After about an hour, I made headway. The area around the bandshell was raked and bagged. The accumulation of debris in the trench where the lighting is housed around the edge of the bandshell had been expunged. I moved on to the stage itself. Just as I started, the news crew arrived. They began setting up and conversing with my mother. I moved faster. It was one thing to be asked to help clean up a bandshell, it is another to be filmed doing so. My classmates might see me in my Saturday worst. I was horrified at what was now inevitable.
My mom didn't volunteer just my time. There was the time she asked my just-arrived-from-out-of-town boyfriend to go with her to volunteer at the animal shelter. “The conditions there are deplorable. We can use your muscle.” He looked at me, and I shrugged. Genuine reasons not to help are few.
Such was my childhood. She fully believed that being a good citizen required active participation. Volunteering has been a regular part of my life. It is not because I have a hard time saying ‘no’. It is because I love my community - whether that be my neighborhood, town, or an organization filling important needs.
One of the places I direct my time is The Mission Project. Whether helping coordinate Conversation Trios program or walking with participants as part of the walking club or helping with an event, I learn, I see new perspectives and I have come to have so many friendships. No one can deny that volunteering is a reciprocal experience. As one of the Conversation Trios’ volunteers shared about her experience, “I think I have been more blessed than the program participants.” The Mission Project could use more volunteers. Amid your many resolutions, perhaps exploring volunteer opportunities could be among them.
Consider what hobbies and skills you have that give you joy and make you feel complete, and think about sharing those with the members of the Mission Project community.
And in case you wanted to know, I was never teased about wearing my oldest clothes to clean the bandshell that day and my visiting boyfriend, who eventually became my husband, survived his day cleaning pet cages, scrubbing floors and walking dogs. Volunteering can be a lot of things – convenient at times, difficult at times, emotionally challenging at times, joyful at times, successful at times, unsuccessful at times. Despite all of that, it is a meaningful part of citizenship. Despite my, at times, youthful ambivalence about my mother’s various volunteer requests of me, I have to admit, she got it right.