Inspiring Community Service Among our Youth.


@postaday 269; #postaday2011.

Last night the kitchen phone rang while I was making dinner. Whenever that happens, it is either my in-laws, the Blood Bank of Hawaii, or a poll taker. We rarely use that line. If you want to get in touch with any of us, we each have our own lines. In fact, we don’t even give out that number as a contact anymore.

You've got less than 30 seconds to make the right impression.

I saw that it was a local number so I answered. I had spuds on the kitchen stove, protein outside on the grill, a spatula in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. In other words, I had no time for nonsense.

“Hello?”

“….”

I waited longer than I usually do.

“….Oh, yeah, how are you this evening?”

Hmmm. The back-handed, ‘we know each other’ approach. Not working for me.

“Who IS this?”

“….I’m calling from Habilitat. Have you ever heard of our organization?”

This was a young man. Reading a script. I could be wrong, but I imagined him to be in baggy shorts, sprouting a few wisps of whiskers, soulful eyes, wafting in his grandpa’s patchouli oil, Mountain Dew at the ready, and his smart phone keeping him in touch with that which mattered. His disinterestedness in his immediate task was obvious to me. Here was a kid doing something he didn’t really want to do. Had he cared, he’d certainly treat the phone call as an opportunity to charm a credit card commitment out of me.

“YesIhave,I’mmakingdinner,haveaniceevening.”

I shut him down. It’s not likely that at 7:30 p.m. a telephone solicitor would think that I have a spatula in my hand. We eat late. He probably thought I would have my wallet, and that I would be ready to open it. I do give to Aloha United Way through payroll deduction. Really and truly? The kids’ college funds will get deposits before a slacker stranger on the phone.

I suspect there’s a growing trend in our community, and it’s all for good. Kid1 has been assigned to accomplish some kind of community service as part of her scholastic requirement. That’s what I suspect might be the case in the young dude who called our house last night. He was probably given a choice of what to do and picked what he thought might be an easy hour. I get it. Requiring community service is a fine idea. It’s like eating your vegetables. You might not want to, but it does a body good. When done in the right spirit, community service builds empathy. When we put ourselves in the background, when we put others first, we get in this blissful zone of selflessness. It is a great place to be. When we focus on the me, myself, and I, we are never really happy. When we focus on you, those, and them, our unhappiness is diminished. Empathy grows stronger.

I look around at work and I am surrounded by a lot of smart young professionals. I’m in awe of them. They are so accomplished, they are bright, they have amazing ideas. I love being around them. I hope that by association, their insight takes root in me. I no longer worry that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. If these young people will be running the show soon, everything will be fine.

Say you run a nonprofit and you’re desperate for funds. A few kids get tossed your way to make evening phone calls. Before they begin the main exercise, they need a warm up. They need a pep talk, they need to talk story with you a little bit, they need to get a feel for their mission. If you’re stuck with a few kids who would rather be somewhere else, I hope there is someway you can connect their hearts with the phone numbers on the page. Stoke their embers. Unless I sense true enthusiasm and inspiration through the scrambled digital signal in my phone, I’m going to politely hang up.