I’m pretty cautious about volunteering.
I won’t sign on to be “just another warm body” for a stagnating committee, or to please a friend who has asked me to support some organization that seems to have little real impact on the world. The way I see it, my days are so packed with stuff I have to do, there is just no room for anything else unless it really matters. My sons matter. My friends matter. My work matters. Anything more than that has to be pretty satisfying, because if it starts to feel like something that cuts into my day, it’s going to be something I drop. I’ve been leaning toward volunteer projects that give me something back a skill, time with a mentor or some real sense of accomplishment.
Recently I spent a day at a Habitat for Humanity home building project. I went into it mainly hoping to learn how to hang drywall.
I have painted rooms and hung shelves and wallpapered, but I haven’t really done any home repair or construction. Here I am in my mid-40s, leaving a marriage that didn’t quite work out, and it seems like the time to learn all those skills. I went to the tools orientation hosted by a local hardware store, expecting to be the least experienced person in the room, and was pleasantly surprised to realize that the rest of the women, all older than I, had never used tools at all. Those were things that belonged to their husbands and fathers and the helpful men in the neighborhood.
In the safety of a well-lit classroom, I practiced using a circular saw without injuring myself even once. I helped make a simple wooden frame. Best of all, while the instructor was out of the room for a phone call, I taught my fellow classmates something I already knew: as the mother of four teenage sons, I have more than my share of experience in patching drywall.
The following week, I went to work on a home being built for a woman not too different from myself. She and her daughter and her friends were pitching in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” to help keep the costs down on her home, being constructed just a few miles from her job. By fall, that family will be living in their very own place, which they helped to build, and which they will pay for through an interest-free loan. For those women, that modest house is a miracle, and no less of one because it required a lot of effort by a lot of dusty, real people.
I helped hang siding and shutters, that day. Nothing momentous. But the simple skills I learned are in my brain, now, and I will be able to use them again some daymaybe on my own home, and maybe to make a little miracle for someone who needs it.
“This is why women ROCK,” said one of the women as we hung shutters on a window overlooking what will someday be a family’s front lawn. “We work together and help each other out.”
In the toughest times, helping each other out is the only sane investment any of us can make. I still don’t know how to hang drywall, but I do know that there are people who can teach me, people who will benefit from my help, and people who will turn around and help someone else. This is why we’re all here. And, yes, it rocks.