© Holly Ito, John Landers, and Natalie Campbell 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
August 31, 2008

As We Give We Also Receive, by Holly Ito

I'm only one, but yet I am one;
because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.

I remember hearing that quote as a child but didn't know until much later that it was written by a Unitarian minister, Edward Everett Hale, relative of patriot Nathan Hale. It has always served as a reminder that we can all do something to make the world a better place to live in.

There are many different ways to give of yourself-helping family, neighbors and friends, volunteering at your children's schools, sports activities and scouts. Countless hours are spent volunteering here at Mission Peak in order to keep our congregation functioning. Today we're going to be focusing on volunteering within our communities, not because that's a more worthy endeavor, but I thought it would make a more interesting service.

About 5 years ago I was looking for "something" not sure what it was, but wanted to get involved with some "hands" on type of volunteer service. I was also starting to look toward retirement, wondering how I'd fill up all that extra time and knew I would need something fulfilling to do. Since my mother's death a few years earlier I'd been thinking of doing something to help older people, but being a friendly visitor, or that type of thing didn't seem to match my quiet personality very well. Then I heard about an organization called HICAP, which stands for Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program. I found out that the HICAP counselors primarily did one-on-one counseling at various sites throughout the county, helping seniors understand the requirements and options related to Medicare and other health insurance issues.

The program required 30 hours of training, given only every couple of years, so I felt fortunate to be able to get into their training program the next summer for the 3 weeks between 2 already scheduled trips. I was very impressed with the quality of the training and also overwhelmed with all there was to learn about Medicare, Medi-gap, HMO's ,PPO's, PFFS, long-term care, Medi-Cal, and now over 50 Prescription Drug plans. After the training we observed and then practiced with experienced counselors before we were out on our own.

For me, the process and structure made it an easy way to volunteer. The client appointments were scheduled for us, there were monthly training sessions to keep us up to date and also provided time for interaction with the other counselors.

It's been very rewarding for me to feel I've made a difference by helping people understand complex and confusing information, reducing their frustrations, resolving billing problems and helping people qualify for financial assistance. Meeting with people on disability also enhances my appreciation of life. I've met wonderful people-clients who are usually very appreciative, plus the other committed counselors and our leaders and have learned from all of them.

I still haven't retired yet, but now know of at least one fulfilling opportunity that I can expand on and that will keep me learning.

The Pathos of Volunteering, by John Landers

(from notes on a 3x5 card)

Volunteering From an Early Age, by Natalie Campbell

For almost five years, every Thursday from 10:30 to 12:30, my daughter Maggie and I delivered meals to the elderly in Fremont. I fell into Meals On Wheels by chance. I was looking for a volunteer opportunity in the community that allowed me to bring my newborn baby. There weren't many options - kids in soup kitchens or food banks are a liability. But I called LifeEldercare on a whim, told Barbara Proctor, the volunteer coordinator about Maggie (only 2 months old at the time) and got the response, "Can you start this week?"

I hemmed and hawed, not sure if it would be a good fit. Not sure if I really wanted to commit to every Thursday. I mean, driving around for 2 hours with a newborn? But I agreed to go that first week. I got a short training, had someone go with me on the route a few times to show me the ropes, and then Maggie and I were on our own.

We had about 10-15 houses to visit each week. Some of them weren't interested in talking. But about 4 or 5 of the seniors really looked forward to our visits. Many times they'd be waiting for us at the door, eager to have a little company and to see the baby.

When we started Meals On Wheels, Maggie was so very tiny, all she could do was sit in her car seat and smile and coo at the people we visited. But as the years went by and we visited the same seniors week in and week out, they got to experience her learning to crawl, then walk, then dance. Maggie would tap dance on command and create homemade cards for the seniors on their birthdays and holidays. I think the fact that I brought Maggie with me made our visits that much more special. Rather than a liabilty, having a child turned out to be a blessing.

We really got to know these wonderful people as they got to know us. I heard about their families, histories and about the history of Fremont. They told me stories about living in a time that was so different than it is now. There was a man who talked about his experiences during WWII, and a woman who told me about life during the depression. One woman lived through the Dresden bombings in Germany. We shared with each other the ins and outs of our lives. They were interested in my family and asked about and remembered what was going on in my life. They really seemed to take pleasure in and celebrate Maggie's accomplishments and development.

I loved seeing these people and helping them. The meals that we brought them were not only sustenance, but a chance to connect with the outside world. Many of our seniors were housebound, and Maggie and I were the only people they would see all day. This volunteer job was so important, and so easy to do. I thought I'd be uncomfortable and not know what to say, but now I realize that I was afraid to face my own mortality; to see what lies in store for me when I am older. I wanted to turn away and pretend that I was going to be a young woman forever. To insulate myself and my child from the realities and difficulties of life and, ultimately, from the sad fact of death itself.

I got past that though, and I am so glad. I brought my child along for the journey. I wanted her to see firsthand that there are so many kinds of people in this world. Young or old, they are people who matter, and people who have stories, and people who sometimes get lonely. I wanted her to look beyond herself and her immediate friends and family and try to make a difference in her community and in her world.

A kind word, a gentle hug, a thoughtful card. Maggie and I were able to share all these things with the seniors during just one visit. It didn't cost us a thing. And the rewards were priceless.

I am sad to say that because of Maggie starting kindergarten, and me starting a new job, I had to leave Meals on Wheels two weeks ago. But if this homily inspires you, please please please consider picking up where I left off. Meals on Wheels is always desperate for drivers, and they depend on volunteers in the community to keep the program going.

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