It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school that I first understood the vital role that nonprofit organizations play in our society. It was during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Making a Difference
I lived in New Orleans and had plans with a friend to head to the Mississippi beaches for the weekend. My friend, a college sophomore, was driving us, and before we left I rode along with him on his Meals-On-Wheels route for the NO/AIDS Task Force. He had done something incredibly stupid a few years earlier and had been “sentenced” by his community-minded mother to volunteer for the route as part of his punishment. He had long since completed his sentence, but for reasons that only became clear to me that day, he continued to volunteer his time to the program.
We started at the Meals-On-Wheels kitchen where I helped him package individual meals that the chefs had prepared for the seven people we would visit that afternoon. My attitude when we began was the typical 17 year old’s: “Let’s get this over with and hit the beach for this beautiful weekend!”
For me, our mission was simple: Dropping off bags to people who were either too poor to afford or too sick to prepare their dinners. I was simply one part of a machine that was performing a necessary, rote task.
By the end of the afternoon, as we sped down the highway toward our fun-filled weekend, the enormity of what we accomplished had hit me harder than a nor'easter on Christmas Eve. The people we visited clearly needed the food we delivered, of that there was no doubt. But more than that, I noticed the change in each of the people we served that day over the short 10-15 minutes that we spent with each one.
Far from feeling as though I were nothing more than a glorified pizza deliveryman, I realized that what we did meant so much more for these people. First, it was vital that each of these patients eat at least one nutritious meal a day to help counteract the effects of the powerful medications they were on. Additionally, each person greeted James (my friend) warmly, and although one or two eyed me suspiciously at first, each welcomed me into his home and spent time catching us up on what was going on in his life. I followed my friend’s lead.
In some houses, he immediately went to the kitchen and put our bags’ contents away in their correct places while we chatted with the resident; in others, he simply dropped the bag on the coffee table and we sat down and spent a few minutes with the recipient.
Going Above and Beyond
In a couple of residences, James took a few minutes to water plants or clear some clutter while we talked. Not once did anyone instruct or ask James to do what he did. He knew exactly how each of these men liked the visit to go, because he had spent his time and effort in learning each one’s preferences, needs, and habits. I was at the same time impressed and dumbfounded. James had become an important part of these people’s lives, and they of his life, simply by volunteering his time for four hours a week.
If not for the NO/AIDS Task Force and the Meals-on-Wheels program, how would these people have gotten the food they needed to feed their hunger and counteract their drugs’ side effects? And would they have gotten a visit on that Friday from someone who was concerned for their welfare and could intervene if they were experiencing any problems? Would the plants have gotten water; would the garbage have been taken out; would the people have had a couple of laughs? James would never have known who these people were and what their needs were, much less have the resources and the mechanism to help them, if not for the concerted efforts of the two organizations.
Nonprofits All Around Us
There is too much need in our world, and all needs cannot be addressed by the ever-expanding quest to manufacture, produce, buy, sell and increase the value of our Gross National Product. Some needs have to be addressed by people who care to help just because they care. This is where nonprofit organizations enter the mix.
Nonprofits provide organized, focused and results-oriented mechanisms for addressing issues as diverse as hunger, homelessness, cultural enhancement, suffering, unwanted animals, business and community development, unmet medical needs, recreation, conservation, human services, performing arts, scientific discovery, historic preservation, senior citizen services, literacy, disaster relief, skills training and countless more.
One thing I have realized since moving to Stoneham is that we have some of the most caring people in the country right here, doing exceptional things in service of those in need. I want to use this blog to tell your story about the direct impact that your efforts have on real people with real issues. I don’t care that XYZ organization serviced 2,474 people in 2010 and was granted $611,097 in grants from A, B, and C Foundations. Actually, I do care about that, but that is not the purpose of my starting this blog. Anyone can get that information from press releases, fact sheets, public service announcements, websites and printed materials. I would like to tell the stories of how your efforts have an impact on you, your neighbors, the people you serve and the wider community.
Tell Us Your Stories
I invite any Stoneham citizen involved with a nonprofit organization, or anyone involved with a nonprofit organization in Stoneham to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s tell your story. It deserves to be told, and Stoneham Patch has given us the ideal forum in which to tell it.
Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I have always thought that Mead’s quote perfectly sums up the efforts of 99 percent of nonprofit organizations.
I look forward to hearing from you, learning and reporting on what you are doing to affect change in our world.