Tuesday, April 16, 2013

why I volunteer

Yesterday, I took a different way home from work and drove past Oak Tree Corner. Oak Tree Corner is housed in a yellow Cape Cod, situated on a busy corner in Oakwood, the yard full of happy little trees and bright flowers. There’s a sign on the side that reads, “a place for grieving children.” This is my sixth year of volunteering there.

Oak Tree Corner was founded in 1996 as a place for grieving children and families to find some sort of comfort. Volunteers, or group facilitators, gather twice a month and lead groups of children in activities designed to facilitate discussion about their grief. I work with the youngest group, the Littles, usually aged 4-6, though there are also two other groups, the Middles and Teens. The parents meet in a separate group, led by another volunteer. All volunteers go through an extensive and, at times, emotionally exhausting training before leading these groups.

Whenever new volunteers start at Oak Tree Corner, they just observe on their first night. It can be overwhelming. Sure, there’s the training, but there’s always some anxiety, especially just starting out, when faced with a group of grieving children. “Will I say the wrong thing?” (Probably not, especially if you let the kids do most of the talking, which is what you’re supposed to do anyway.) “What if someone cries?” (Surprisingly, this hardly ever happens.) “I can’t do this.” (Yes. You can.)

After group, the volunteers gather to share their experiences from the night. On nights when we have new volunteers, the old volunteers take turns sharing why they decided to volunteer with Oak Tree Corner. I always say some variation of the same thing. I heard about Oak Tree Corner from a co-worker. I’d been looking for a place to volunteer where I wouldn’t be relegated to answering phones or stuffing envelopes, ideally working kids, and this seemed perfect. I was a bit nervous that I would be dealing with children in the midst of the grieving process, but it’s been life changing. It really has.

As I drove by Oak Tree Corner yesterday, I really thought about my answer to that question. How rote it’s become and how it’s the real answer, sure, but, since I’m emotionally closed-off with near strangers, it’s not the real real answer. It’s not the cheesy, gooey-center-of-my-heart answer.

I like my job but, most days, I don’t usually feel like I’m really making the world a better place. On the best days, I get to offer someone a job. That’s a good feeling. But, for the most part, I’m not changing lives.

Yesterday, some asshole blew up the Boston Marathon. I, like most people, followed along in horror, on Twitter, on Facebook, on the everlasting suck-cycle that is our news media, my stomach sinking as each new piece of information came in. Yet, in the aftermath of this terror, Patton Oswalt posted the following on Facebook:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

And I thought...THAT is why I volunteer. I want to be a part of Oswalt’s vast majority. I want to make the world a better place, in my own tiny way, even if it’s only by volunteering two days a month. It’s often difficult to measure our successes at Oak Tree Corner. It’ll most likely be years or, you know, NEVER before we know if anything we say or do benefits the children we work with. But I have to believe it does. I have to believe in trying to make the world a little brighter, in doing my part to tip the scales to Good. I have to believe that Oak Tree Corner, this small shining light, is really just one of many, a million stars brightening the night sky.


  1. You're just the very best.

    1. No you are! You save the world every day. :)

    2. Thirded. (Shouldn't have read this at work, BTW. Where are my tissues?)


    4. Fourthed! (Is that even a thing? No? Well, it should be.)

      Doing things for good is pretty much the best ever. (You're pretty great, and so is this post.)

    5. This thread is my favorite. FIFTHSIES.*

      *And so of course in my head I went here:
      "Show's gonna last three weeks!"

    6. And now we will all watch Community and do the dance of joy!

  2. Such a good entry. I agree, you can't focus on the negative, but focus on the good that come from the ugly. You are certainly helping those kids, even if you don't know it. Oswalt's quote is much like the one I heard from Craig Ferguson.

    1. Ooh, I'll have to look up what he said, too. I love Craig Ferguson.

  3. Love this post!