18: The Circle of Volunteerism

18: The Circle of Volunteerism

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

The Circle of Volunteerism

Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You’re only as good as the people you work with and the people you work for.

~Casey Kasem

During our homeschool group’s tour of a local radio station, we observed a massive soundboard. Eleven-year-old Jeremy’s eyes widened. I knew what my son was thinking. All those switches and buttons and knobs — it looked like a little boy’s paradise.

Station owner Reverend Lane finished the tour with the statement, “If anyone is interested in learning more about radio, we’d love to have you volunteer with us.”

Jeremy looked up at me, a hopeful smile lighting his face.

I patted his shoulder. “We’ll see.”

With Attention Deficit Disorder and two learning disabilities, Jeremy was both a delight and a challenge to teach. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter child, and he was very bright, especially when it came to technology. Because he was a kinesthetic learner, however, I had to come up with hands-on approaches to presenting information. Maybe volunteering at the radio station was just what he needed.

A few weeks later, Jeremy started at the station. He quickly picked up running the soundboard, and we enjoyed hearing about his adventures in radio. Before long, terms like legal ID, dead air, and PSA (public service announcement) became household words. When Reverend Lane asked Jeremy to take a break for the summer so they could train new personnel, our son could hardly wait for fall so he could resume his “job.”

The station’s new DJ, Danny, took Jeremy under his wing and gave him opportunities to test his new skills. He joked with Jeremy as an equal and seemed to enjoy their time together, causing our sometimes-shy son to blossom. Jeremy told us one day that Danny leaned back with his hands behind his head and said how nice it was having Jeremy there because he could relax and let “our youngest DJ” run the show. Danny’s words boosted our son’s confidence so much that we had to peel him off the ceiling that night.

When I stopped by to pick up Jeremy one afternoon, Reverend Lane asked to speak to me. I entered his office with trepidation, fearing that Jeremy’s two years of volunteering were coming to an end. I was right.

“I wanted to talk to you before I mentioned this to Jeremy,” Reverend Lane began. “We’d like him to take over the Sunday programming for us. Our current DJ is leaving, and Danny thinks Jeremy could handle the job.”

I stared at him. “You want him to work for you?”

“Yes. We can’t let him talk on the air until his voice changes,” he said apologetically, “but he’ll air your church’s live service at eleven and play prerecorded programming until three.”

“But . . . but,” I stammered, “he’s just thirteen.”

“I know,” Reverend Lane said, misunderstanding my concern. “It means someone will have to stay with him each week. No one else is in the office on Sundays, and we wouldn’t want him here by himself.”

I took a deep breath. If the owner trusted my thirteen-year-old to run his radio station one day a week, who was I to argue? “Sure. I’ll stay with him.”

Thus began my two-year volunteer job. Jeremy and I would attend Sunday school each week and then race over to the station in time to get the church service on the air. We ate lunch while listening to our pastor preach, and afterwards Jeremy began the afternoon programming.

Sometimes the afternoons stretched out endlessly before me. I dusted or vacuumed the reception area, contributing where I could, but mostly I sat with Jeremy. It was a wonder to watch him. I soon learned why Danny said an hour of DJing consisted of fifty-five minutes of boredom interspersed with five minutes of sheer terror. Whenever a program CD wouldn’t play or something else went wrong, I panicked while Jeremy quietly slipped in some music to avoid “dead air” and figured out what to do. Only his time volunteering at the station could have given him the composure and expertise to handle the many problems that cropped up each week.

Of course, Jeremy never really stopped volunteering. He and his dad put together a website for the station and initiated live audio streaming before streaming was even popular. Jeremy also rounded up members of his 4-H youth club for a service project, cleaning up the garden in front of the station. They trimmed bushes, pulled weeds, and planted flowers. Reverend Lane’s wife was especially thrilled with the results. Shortly before he graduated from school, Jeremy recorded a PSA to promote 4-H’s many opportunities for youth development. It thrilled several young 4-Hers who heard their voices on air for the first time and gave Jeremy experience in directing, recording, and splicing together a radio spot.

In all, Jeremy worked for the radio station for seven years, starting with the two years he volunteered as a preteen. No, he didn’t become a DJ, but the friendships, skills, and experience he acquired bolstered his confidence and buoyed him through college and into the workforce.

As we found, volunteering is not only a family affair but a community effort. Though Jeremy started out as the volunteer, others volunteered their time to train him, nurture him, and oversee his efforts. By giving of themselves, Reverend Lane, Danny, and others took a shy little boy and built him up to become an employable young man whom they in turn employed. What goes around comes around in the circle of volunteerism.

~Tracy Crump

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