By Orv Kimbrough
United Way of Greater St. Louis
What would it take to create a culture of service, a culture defined by what we give, rather than what we get? I believe this is a culture worth pursuing—one which, in some pockets of the community, already exists – and if nurtured more broadly has the potential to transform and impact more lives.
United Way of Greater St. Louis, in partnership with stl250 and sponsored by Monsanto, is helping facilitate a culture of service by uniting all generations to make our region strong through one million hours of volunteer service in 2014. One million hours of service will generate $22,140,000 in economic value for our region and even more goodwill and lives changed.
Occasionally someone will ask me if one person can make a difference. I believe the answer is yes, one person has the power to make a difference and each of us holds that power within us. Sometimes even what seems like small acts goes beyond what you could imagine. In the aftermath of the Joplin tornado in 2011, thousands of volunteers from the St. Louis region travelled down to see what they could do to help. Tree limbs cluttered the landscape, and the trees that were left had no bark. There were no houses, just foundations. And, the task at hand was hopeful, yet exhausting.
At the end of the long volunteer day, as the volunteers streamed into the reception center, an older woman walked in asking for one more favor. Out in her car were dozens of pans of homemade cookies and breads. Each bundled with a handwritten recipe card. The woman explained that while she was not fit to help clean the debris, she was able to make this small impact through the volunteers. Even though her oven could only bake a dozen cookies at a time, she fed an army of volunteers. And those cookies provided more than nourishment, they provided hope and love and inspiration.
When I was a kid, volunteers made the difference in my life. There were many who came at different times to do different “small things,” but their collective investment made a big difference. I remember the volunteers who worked at the local church food pantry and clothing store, places that I frequented often. I remember the volunteers who served as weekend resource families for kids who lived alongside me at the group home. These volunteer families opened their homes and hearts and helped us all see what normal looked like in a functioning family. This single act provided me a vision.
I remember one volunteer who frequently piled a bunch of us neighborhood kids into his minivan to transport us to the Monsanto YMCA where we gained access to the facility free of charge. As we drove to and from the facility he always encouraged us by talking about his life, college and career. He did this because so many young boys like me were being led to believe that the only option we had for relevance and belonging were gangs and drugs. This single act expanded my worldview.
One person can and does make a difference. And, even better, we aren’t making a difference alone. Thousands of people are standing with us, hand-in-hand to create those conditions that help people live their best possible lives.
I’ve been fortunate to see our community in action, and I know that the passionate people who make up our region have already put a stake in the ground for helping others. St. Louis already ranks in the Top 10 of many volunteerism categories. Through your local United Way alone, individuals throughout our region volunteered 78,953 hours in 2013. As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of St. Louis, there is no better time to show just what kind of culture we, as St. Louisans and the broader region, want to foster here – a culture of service.