Paying It Forward At Home – Aug 2010

“Public Service” – there’s such a pleasant ring to the phrase. Over time I’ve discovered that no matter what challenges I face in my own life, there is always someone in need of a helping hand. I thought I’d share a few experiences with you now that we’re in summer months with kids home from school, life a little more relaxed and days a little more enjoyable.

Looking for opportunities to further our personal goals of community stewardship in 2009 Brian & I joined Rotary, an international public service organization. As a member I was required to prepare a vocational presentation about my job, my life & public service involvement. Preparations for my talk brought back vivid memories.

This spring I took on the distinct pleasure of serving on the organizing committee for the ATB Financial / Lethbridge Rotary Dragon Boat Festival.

This was the 9th annual event & by all measures a smashing success. With approximately 1400 competitors, hundreds of volunteers & thousands of spectators, Henderson Lake teemed with great expectations & competition, smiles, fun & entertainment. Of course fabulous weather contributed to that success, but what impressed me was the 18 extraordinarily hard working committee members.

I wore my step-counter to see what kind of “fuel mileage” I’d get over the 3 day event. Turns out I walked almost 19 miles. Sounds impressive but my contribution to the event was miniscule in comparison to other committee members. Thousands of labor hours are necessary to orchestrate this incredibly popular family weekend – hours which volunteers could have spent with their own families.

As a Mom I volunteered for children’s sports & school activities as well as being heavily involved in my husband’s passion – local & out of town motocross racing. Motocross events are very long hours filled with hot/cold, mud/dust, noxious fumes &/or breathtaking excitement but I had great fun interacting with other volunteers – many who will always be my friends.

Community involvement doesn’t always showcase bright spots in society. Exit Outreach is an organization in Calgary providing services & information to sex trade workers on downtown “hooker strolls”. My job was simply to drive the cube van & safely park at predetermined locations where professionals offer advice & support on legal, medical, & social issues – all designed to encourage or assist sex-trade workers with “leaving the life” and inherant dangers of the streets.

I was cautioned to only observe, but human nature being what it is, sex-trade workers would interact with me. I met a 16 yr old young man selling his body on the streets – the only way he could afford his own place to live – away from family members who sexually abused him. Where is the justice in that? I met an 18 yr old – 8 ½ months pregnant – sadly but proudly offered for sale by the father of her unborn child who would stand by to ensure she did not waste too much time in the van. I could barely contain my anger & frustration.

For many years my parents utilized their extremely limited resources to offer unpaid foster care to two First Nation sisters. Seeing down-on-their-luck individuals on the streets my parents would pick up these strangers, bring them home & house, feed & clothe them for days, weeks or sometimes even months. At 96 my father still receives calls & cards from thankful people who’s lives changed because of those actions & who continue to pay the kindness forward & offer similar kindness to others.

In the eighties I was privileged to spend a couple years working on the Blood Reserve where I experienced first hand the indignity of being a visible minority. Interacting with the residents taught me much about the rich First Nations society that exists largely out of sight and out of mind – often with a “don’t want to know” attitude found in some of our local residents.

Running errands downtown the other day I waited for a couple homeless fellows to cross the street. I went around the block so I could get their attention & handed them the cash I had in my purse. Turns out it was only 5 bucks apiece but that’s a meal in their world. Cynic’s reading this may say that food was not purchased, but the point is that most of us enjoy the luxury of exercising our right to make those choices ……… without the burden & indignity of being judged by others.

Harold’s Auto Service encourages you to exercise your choice not only to see, but to act upon inequities that exist around us in our personal & business neighborhoods every day.

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