Several weeks ago, I submitted my opinion concerning volunteerism, noting, “You’ll get more out of it than you’ll ever put into it.”
I’ve since had two reminders of what that means.
In the middle of September, I was assigned a Northwood Elementary fourth-grader to mentor. I say “assigned,” as a mentor never knows in advance just what kind of student he or she will get, and so it is with great trepidation that the adult arrives at the school to spend upward of an hour with an unknown quantity.
I received very little information about “my kid.” I knew his name, and that he was somewhat timid.
That was about it.
I knew nothing about his past, his home life, or of why he needed a mentor. Of course, he did not know much about this old man who was to help him in whatever area it was that he needed assistance.
We met in the “media center” — we used to call it the library! — and I told him a little about myself, that I had two college degrees, was a graduate of USAF pilot training, had served a year in Vietnam, was married and had two kids, and a dog named Shadow.
Then it was his turn, and he was quite reluctant to open up — to tell me much about his family, how many siblings he had, or even the nature of his interests.
It took a few weeks, but eventually, the ice broke and we developed a relationship. His grades started to improve because he began to take interest in his classes, did his homework, and was finding his niche in his class.
Someone took an interest in him, and he soon took an interest in his studies.
Last week, I had another experience that reminded me about “getting more out of it.”
Some 90 years ago, the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine opened a hospital in Shreveport, La., to provide free treatment to handicapped children. Over time, 21 other hospitals, from Montreal to Mexico City, have opened; 17 provide orthopedic treatment, four provide treatment for burn patients, and one is a combined facility. All serve youngsters up to 18 years of age. To get kids in need of treatment, the various Shrine centers transport the patient and a guardian to the nearest hospital, providing transportation, a room — if an overnight stay is required — and all food.
We were having a late breakfast at a local eatery recently when a young man came up to our table and said, “You don’t remember me, but I recognized you and just wanted to thank you for taking me to Shriners at Tampa.” He was right; I did not recognize him! When he told me his name, it did not make an impression. I have made more than 50 trips to the hospitals in Tampa, Galveston, Houston, Lexington and Cincinnati. After driving some 50 kids to hospitals, they all seem to run together.
It was then that he pulled up his pants leg and showed me that his leg was just as straight as mine was. We talked about this for a minute, and then he continued on, stating simply, “I’m in the Army now, stationed at Fort Benning.”
Yes, we Shriners helped this young man into adulthood and a meaningful life. But his success story made me almost cry.
When he left our table, I simply stated to Gigi, “You get more out of it than you ever put into it.”
Bob Allen, a retired city councilman, lives in Crestview.
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