“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
I’m not sure why I decided to volunteer to teach illiterate adults to read when I was still taking college courses, working a job, and commuting two hours one way once a month for Army Reserve Drill.
I didn’t get any credit. I am not a naturally outgoing person. Although reflecting on life, I realize volunteering combined with military public affairs training and some business experience make me seem more outgoing than I was before these things.
I had never really volunteered for anything before, especially where a commitment of about three hours a week for a minimum of ten weeks was required. So I thought really carefully about volunteering. Where I come from if you make a commitment, you do absolutely everything you can to fulfill it.
But reading and writing have played a very important part of my life.
I still remember when Mom saw I was having difficulty with reading comprehension in elementary school. I had a choice to stay back in the same grade or do eight reader cards per day and answer the comprehension questions on front and back. Every day that summer, before I fell asleep at night, she made sure I did them.
When I thought of those who couldn’t read and what they were losing, maybe that’s what did it. One of the men I taught loved listening to Louis L’amour Westerns. After he gained some proficiency, I found a couple of paragraphs I thought he could read based on the work and skills developed.
While not perfect, he had the foundations to make it through just fine. The look on his face when he finished reading that section reminded me so much of a child a Christmas that I tear up a little thinking about it. That one moment hooked me on volunteering whenever I can.
It wasn’t a Christian organization I volunteered for, but the teaching materials used were created and donated by one…maybe it was CBN. It was a phonics-based reading course.
It wasn’t what I expected
It wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was better. However, if I had not made that commitment for 10 weeks, I probably would’ve dropped out after the first class. When volunteering it is best to go in with an open mind and an open heart.
I wasn’t even 23 yet, but perhaps one weird thing which drove me to volunteer was that I had somehow developed the belief I wouldn’t make it past 25. I had two adults who I tutored through the program. Neither could read above a second-grade level
One worked in a factory making (why do I remember this?) $14.65 per hour lifting 65 to 130-pound marine products. He’d pick it up from one moving line, flipping it over his head, and place it on another line. He said he did that many, many times per hour, so many that I wondered if he had made the number up.
This man wanted to set an example so he could “break the chain in my family where nobody gets a high school degree.” He was in his mid-40’s and life looked like it wasn’t treating him well at all. His face was weathered with deep grooves, but his spirit of hope was strong. He traveled over an hour to come to class twice per week.
The other man was a manager at a tire, lube, and parts store. He was in his late thirties, had a wife and two kids. “How,” I thought, “can he manage a store and barely read?”
Managers get a huge amount of paperwork, so I had to ask as politely as I knew how.
“So, how many forms would you say you have to deal with at the store?”
He thought a moment, “Forty or so.”
“How do you handle that?” I asked in amazement.
“I take it home to my wife. She reads it to me, and I memorize it,” he said. When he said that, his face looked like he was saying, “This is what I have to do, so I do it. It’s no big deal.”
I told him if he can memorize 40 plus forms, then this should be easy.
Oops. I wish I had not said that, because it still haunts me today. He was doing very well, but the other man was doing even better. So he got discouraged and later dropped out.
Since then, I think a marvelous book has been written, usable by any coach, parent, boss, or teacher. I know what I did wrong, and what to do instead. The title isn’t my favorite, but I’ve personally recommended it to over two dozen people with the promise if they didn’t like it, I’d buy the physical copy from them. I’ve never had to buy any of those.
No, I can’t extend that offer to you…but you can find the book here.
Ways to Volunteer
There are three ways you can volunteer your life. They are your time, your energy, and your money. As a Christian, when we realize none of these are really ours, then we have to look and consider other factors in our walk with God.
We will deal with that in part two next time. The link for that will be added here.