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Kirby: Taking time out of yourself

By Robert Kirby | Salt Lake Tribune Columnist
First Published Aug 10 2014 10:02 am • Last Updated Aug 11 2014 12:40 pm

I didn’t volunteer for the Army in 1972. They came and got me. I could have run away, but that would have required effort. Too lazy to join and too lazy to get out of it. It’s the story of my life.

In the Army I seemed to volunteer a lot. Somebody loud and scary would tell me that I had volunteered to stand guard, paint rocks, dig a hole, give blood or haul garbage. Being lazy wasn’t an option.

After that, I was even more cautious about volunteering. Whenever volunteers were called to perform some chore at work, church or home, I was reminded of the Army and the benefits of hiding or running away.

Not anymore. Today I live in the most volunteering state in America. For eight years in a row, Utah has led the nation in volunteerism. Last year, almost a million Utahns donated 165 million hours of their time, mostly in schools and youth programs.

I didn’t know this of course. Last month Rochelle Runge from the Utah Commission on Service & Volunteerism came and got me and made me know it.

Her: “You’re the perfect person to help us get the word out about volunteering.”

Me: “You got me mixed up with somebody else.”

Didn’t matter. Over lunch, Rochelle insisted that volunteering was not only good for other people, but also good for oneself and the greater community. Volunteers saved Utah $3 billion a year. She was very passionate about it.

Therein lies the secret behind successful volunteering — finding something that you’re passionate about and then throwing yourself into it.

For example, volunteering doesn’t have to be something idiotic like painting rocks or standing in the rain with an empty rifle. You can donate your time and efforts to things that actually make sense.

It might surprise you to learn just what that is. If you really want to stretch yourself and broaden your horizons, volunteer for something completely out of your element.

Come down out of your expensive digs and help feed and clothe the homeless. Leave your CEO desk for a few hours a week and teach immigrant children English. Give up a Saturday and groom hiking trails. Get off your lazy butt and pick up trash.

That last one was for me. After talking with Rochelle, I felt guilty. So I started my own personal volunteer program to see how I liked it. I started picking up litter on the street instead of just ignoring it.

I enjoy volunteering for my personal what-I’d-like-to-do-to-litterbugs program. “Cram It in Your Ash Can” could well take off nationally.

If you want to live outside yourself for awhile, try volunteering. There are hundreds of ways of doing it, and a couple of ways of finding out where they are.

Call 211 on your phone. Remember — 911 is for “help me!” 211 is for “how can I help?” The operators there will get you where you’re needed.

Or you can go to volunteers.utah.gov and explore the opportunities. The point is that there’s something you can do if you have the time and the heart. Others will appreciate your generosity.

Don’t make them come looking for you.

Read more from Robert Kirby here.