Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Volunteers Are Priceless

[Note: This was originally submitted to the Gazette's Letters to the Editor July 20th and was in response to the first flash flood that hit Manitou Springs. The Gazette did not publish this post.]

Since Nobody Asked ...

Earlier this summer, there was a flash flood in Manitou Springs. I spent most of two days sweeping sidewalks and shoveling dirt & mud into buckets & their piles. The effort gave me blisters & their scabs on both hands. Three weeks later, I still remind myself I could have worn gloves.

On Monday, July 1st, a flash flood raced through Manitou Springs early in the evening and left behind inches of mud & crud. I was in Old Colorado City when a text message told me the news; I raced home and took pictures of Fountain Creek & downtown Manitou. News vans & reporters had already saturated the city; a local business owner flipped the bird at a passing TV van, and for added emphasis, “Fuck you, man!”

I missed a 10:00AM press conference the next morning because I was sweeping. Since most of the city’s resources were being used to clean Canon Avenue (which had the worse of the flooding), I decided I would sweep the rest of the city’s sidewalks. As the mayor smiled for pretty cameras and talked to reporters with manicured teeth & spiked hair, I was clearing the crosswalk at the intersection of Pawnee & Manitou Avenue because it was filled with mud & silt.

Several people thanked me as I swept. Some were locals I knew and recognized. Two reporters asked me where to get coffee (“I don’t drink coffee but Marika’s is right down the street.”) A Denver TV anchorwoman riding her media bus waved as I crossed Manitou Avenue; she sent me a tweet earlier that morning asking me what was to be done for the city and I replied I’d sweep & shovel (& she never replied).

Wednesday morning, as I swept the sidewalk near a bar & tea shop, a young woman walked up to me & asked why I was sweeping. I told her because the city was busy with Canon Avenue. She nodded silently at me. I liked her question. I added that I loved Manitou Springs and she smiled & nodded. We shook hands, and very soon, she was off with a friend to hike the Manitou Incline.

I swept the sidewalks for the same reason I shovel snow off the sidewalks in winter: because I want to help. Or put more plainly: I volunteer because I love Manitou.

You have to understand: Manitou Springs is a community of eclectic people. Artists, hikers, outdoor fanatics, spiritual merchants, atheists, singers, musicians, hippies, businessmen/women; so many different people live here. To be sure, and to be honest, life isn’t always a bowl of peaches & almond juice in Manitou Springs, but the people make the city what it is, and that is why I volunteer.

I volunteer because I know I’m helping my community & that makes me feel good because it is a win-win-win situation. I know I help when I pick trash off the sidewalks. I know I help by sweeping sidewalks & intersections after a flash flood (or shoveling after a snowstorm.) When people at parking kiosks ask for help, I help them as much as I can.

I don’t have a membership or volunteer at any of the community centers in Manitou Springs. I’m not paid to volunteer, either (and the fact I have to state as much is a rather sad indictment of the present times; I apologize for the digression.)

Not too long ago, I participated in on an online survey that asked questions about volunteering and last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire. I was asked if I had volunteered prior, during, and after the fire (yes on all three counts). I was also asked if I was a member of any community or volunteer organization (nope); and finally, I was asked if the fire had inspired me to volunteer, and my reply was “yes and no.”

I know & have seen countless people stop and pick up trash on the sidewalks in Manitou. I have seen people pick up trash from Fountain Creek. A married couple from Manitou Springs helped clear mud & carried sand bags for businesses along Canon Avenue Tuesday morning after the flash flood. Every day, I see residents and businesses helping tourists at parking kiosks. I know other people (online & not) who volunteer in so many different ways (online & not) and many are not part of volunteer organizations or community centers.

You probably won’t see them on social media bragging about the good deeds they’ve done today. You most likely won’t see them receiving any awards for helping their community in their own, if unnoticed, ways. But I do want to say to them, “Thank you. Your efforts are appreciated. And please don’t stop.”

I don’t mind the scabs I have on both my hands. I’m happy I earned them. I am sure I will earn many more blisters & their scabs as a volunteer before my time on earth is finished. And while I’m at it, I’d like to encourage people to get out and volunteer, whether it be with a volunteer organization or simply doing your own thing(s).

And oh, maybe buy yourself a pair of gloves before you start.

Volunteers aren't paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless. ~ Anonymous