When volunteering I try to follow-through as promised. Sometimes circumstances get in the way, but my motives remain intact.
Service through volunteerism is the way thousands of Americans give purpose to their lives. A link to idealism and even altruism. Giving can be so valuable when in concert with others of like mind.
Most volunteering is community or church-based. Sometimes big enough to be especially significant and inspiring.
In the spring of 1961, John F. Kennedy announced the formation of the Peace Corps. The idea had been discussed for a decade. Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, suggested it.
During the 60s era, service was highly valued. Hubert Humphrey and other politicians actively promoted the idea.
America’s success in World War II, the occupation of defeated countries, and the involvement with the community of nations was causing us to be known as “The Ugly Americans.”
Something authentic needed to change that perspective.
Kennedy was sold on the idea. He announced the Peace Corps’ formation in March 1961. Two months before I was scheduled to be sworn in as an army officer.
Talk about bad timing.
Peace Corps objectives aligned with my ideas about service much better than military involvements. But my options were nonexistent.
I did not discuss my bewilderment with anyone. Because I thought my unsettledness was unique. Even strange.
But that was not true.
One of my fellow ROTC students withdrew from the program. He had become a conscientious objector based on growing religious convictions.
His decision caused a ruckus, because he was offered a regular army commission. How could someone who declared allegiance to serving the USA as an accomplished military leader just drop out?
But that action was not unusual.
Some fourth-year classmen at our nation’s military academies also withdrew just before graduation. Such actions usually resulted in a compromise. After the cadet had been subjected to intense pressure to recant.
I did not have that kind of courage.
My call to the Peace Corps office in Washington, D.C. did not help. I was told to call again after fully completing my military obligation. But not to expect an encouraging response.
Peace Corps service was nothing like being a military leader. I would have been trained thoroughly in the language and culture of the nation or area to which I would be assigned. Given instructions on how I could be of specific service. Expected to commit two years to that effort.
The route I took was probably the most logical. Albeit disturbing.
The 1960s Peace Corps was called “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Tough on many levels: culture shock, difficult (sometimes dangerous) living conditions, loneliness, and problems joining the American workforce after returning.
I have heard Peace Corps veterans talk positively about their experiences. Their service benefitted others in the world and changed them as Americans. Made them more aware of how much we have.
It gave them a sense of humility. Made them more aware of the need for a domestic peace corps—now called AmeriCorps.
General Colin Powell’s nonprofit, America’s Promise Alliance, is another service organization. The APA serves parts of the United States many want to avoid. Pretend does not exist. Disparaged because its people are believed to be insufficiently ambitious.
Thought to be poor because they are lazy and prefer to live “on the dole.”
But Powell’s efforts after retirement were meaningful to me. His work in founding America’s Promise Alliance is as important as any of his military and government accomplishments.
Powell’s outlook is something to which I can identify. He was commissioned into the Army out of ROTC three years before I. He decided to make it a career. But Powell never lost sight of his background and the social needs prevalent in our American population.
Five years ago, I had to admit my beloved wife of over 50 years into a memory care facility. She had Alzheimer’s and became debilitated enough that home caregiving was not possible. I sold our home and moved into a villa. And lived alone. Remembering with sadness my wife’s observation that “Home is where we are together.”
I called the villa “a way station.” Certainly not “home.”
Before COVID struck I could visit my wife daily at the memory care unit. And I discovered a group of neighbors with whom I socialized outdoors.
But her dementia grew worse and COVID hit. I relied on my family and church. Those people helped. But I needed more.
I sought a writing coach to help me use that medium to cope. Found an excellent one in R.J. Thesman. I also looked for a service organization to join and discovered AARP Kansas. In a few months I was serving on that organization’s Executive Council.
Service through writing and membership of a recognized nonprofit organization helped by being positive distractions. Family and friends contributed much to my feelings of purpose.
But a hole in my life remained.
Writing and AARP helped in the sense of organizational affiliation. But I learned that meaningful service is best when shared with one other special person. A partner or sidekick.
And mine was fading away into the fog of dementia.
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