When I was a kid at the orphanage, mustachioed volunteers came in to give us private night-time massages. A lot of the specifics elude me, but I remember the smell of baby oil and strong hands digging into my shoulders to “really work out that stress.” Those heroes inspired my lifelong passion for helping others, especially people who keep their scars on the inside.
That kind of opportunity is closed to the average Joe these days. Now you have to be a 'professional volunteer,' whatever that means; and they do background checks because lawyers are such sue-happy parasites.
So if you’re like me and you want to serve your community without the hassle of corporate-charity red tape, you’ll have to get creative.
Here’s an example:
I live in Denver, and just recently we had a mass murder. I knew a lot of kids would be sad because their parents died, and some other kids had to move out of their apartments because the police were defusing a bomb. So seeing a chance to do a good deed, I took some leftover Fourth-of-July stuff to the park where the victims were gathered and I put on a therapeutic holiday show.
Everyone was excited by my generosity, and the kids were so surprised they started running around crying. That made me feel like I really could make a difference. If you can amaze people, you’re on the path to healing them.
Some of the older men seemed angry that the show only lasted for a minute, but I’m not a professional fireworks setter-offer and I only had that one string of ladyfingers. I could sense a certain tension in the air anyway, like someone was fighting with his wife and no one knew what to look at while he taught her not to burn the churros. I couldn’t tell which couple it was because, honestly, everyone was crying.
I guess I interrupted the fiesta (or whatever it was they were having. I only said Fiesta because a lot of them spoke Spanish and that’s what I think they call it when they get together. Some people get Fiesta confused with Siesta which is when they're sleeping. S for Siesta and S for Sleeping is how I remember.) Anyway, I guess I interrupted the fiesta because the cops broke through the riotous crowd and told me that I'd better go.
Like I said though, sometimes you have to improvise if you really care about helping. Last month, when all those houses burned down, I wanted to help but the fire department turned me down with their by-the-book “Sir, we need you to get away from that equipment.” Not willing to take no for an answer, I found a way. "Life always finds a way." (Said by the smart guy from the dinosaur movie. Gregory Peck maybe?)
Using my own money, I rented a Smokey the Bear outfit and went to the evacuation center to teach the kids some fire safety.The rental place didn’t have an Smokey outfit so I settled for Yogi - but I think it was just as effective. With the rental sombrero, you could hardly tell the difference.
Anyway, I spent some quality time at the center’s playground showing kids the different types of matches and how they work so that they never accidentally start a fire. Education is an important part of volunteerism. I also taught them what I could remember from Vacation Bible School about how God wasn’t punishing them, it was probably something bad their parents did, like maybe they were homos. Religion helps us in difficult times, and children need to know that God isn’t out to get them.
I wasn’t able to minister as much as I wanted to because a couple of gays from the Red Cross told me I wasn’t “supposed” to be there. It’s weird because, when they first walked up with the bat, I thought they were going to ask me to start a pick-up softball game (which I’m really good at, by the way.) I’m still amazed at the competition between charities, and this Red Cross intimidation is just one more example.
But I understood their jealousy and I left for the second evac site. When I got to the next group of needies (non-profit jargon for people who “need” help) there were several policemen lined up to warn me about driving in a costume. I appreciate their concern, but was sad that my punishment was being told to stay away from the kids and to get "the hell" out of town. I knew these portly, badged superheroes could use God in their lives, but they wouldn’t let me explain why.
Once again I ended up going home before I could reach as many victims as I’d hoped, but that’s part of helping: disappointment. So get used to it. If you really want to help people, you have to have tough skin, imagination, and a desire to help people like I do.