Sep 09, 2009

A Nonprofit Volunteer's Inspiring Life View

Reading the University of Washington alumni magazine (Columns) of September 2009, I was drawn to the story of Phil Smart -- soon to be 90 years old -- and his views on volunteering.

In fact, the subject of volunteering is so important to Smart that he's written two memoirs about it -- called Angels Among Us and The Real Angels Among Us (the proceeds of which benefit Seattle's Children's Hospital). (Hey, I volunteered there during high school! I mostly remember helping kids blow bubbles during recreational therapy.)

Anyway, here's the apparent crux of Smart's thinking: Every day can be conceptually divided into three eight-hour chunks. Two of those three chunks are usually spent working and sleeping.

But it's the third eight hours, he says, that define each of us as a person. Smart has chosen to spend many of those hours volunteering (mostly at the aforementioned hospital, at the bedsides of sick and dying children). Of his time with the kids, Smart says, "They taught me life and death and everything in between."

Of course, the first thing that occurs to me and probably everyone else is that we don't exactly have an extra eight hours waiting to be filled -- those hours get eaten up quickly by commuting time, errands, making dinner, maintaining relationships with friends, and so forth. Still, it's an intriguing notion. And when you think about it, things like making dinner and seeing friends DO define us as people in important ways, and reflect sometimes unconscious priority choices.

So where does volunteering fit in? I know the answer for myself, and hope the efforts of Phil Smart and others to speak out will inspire others to devote at least a little time to a cause.