In the summer of 1994, my small town was flooded when tropical storm Alberto stalled over Southwest Georgia for almost ten days. Torrential rains caused rivers to exceed flood levels by 2o feet or more. Weather commentators called it a 100 year flood as muddy water swelled over small towns, highways, and bridges along the banks of the Flint River.
I had never lived in a community devastated by a natural disaster nor watch one rebuild either. Because the downtown business district was completely under water, owners and civic leaders met to discuss options. Gathered in a large room, questions surfaced; “How bad is your damage?” “What are you going to do?” “Are you going to rebuild?” First, one voice and then another echoed across the room, “I am going to rebuild; but I can’t do it by myself.”
At the time, no one knew what resources might be available. While there was hope for state or federal assistance, there was a larger question of, “Who will help us?”
Within a few days, the answer arrived. Volunteers from all across the Southeast began to show up asking for opportunities to help in any way possible. From Virginia to Florida and from North Carolina to Mississippi, people came to offer assistance. As these volunteers shared the news of the devastation within their network of friends, family members, civic groups, churches, and business owners, more help arrived. Some brought tools. Some brought equipment. Some didn’t have any special skill or ability but came to do anything that was needed.
A Boy Scout group sent several pounds of nails. Men and women from churches traveled long distances, slept on floors, and worked like it was their own town. A children’s mission group from Missouri sent $32.00 they had raised through a special project. Businesses sent supplies. Organizations donated money. Civic groups sent ambassadors of good will.
Each week new faces came. Familiar ones came over and over again. Every weekend some of the same groups came and worked as long as they could. Homes were transformed. Businesses were able to open again. Life slowly returned to a small town that was almost wiped off of the map.
Volunteers made this recovery possible. They gave the people in this community something they could not purchase on their own or receive in any other way. They gave them hope. As they gave of their time and talent without any desire for recognition or reward a devastated community found new life.
This memory travels with me where ever I go. It makes me wonder. Why do people volunteer?
Honestly, some people don’t. They do not see a need or feel any responsibility. There were many individuals in our own community who never offered to help either. Their homes or businesses were not affected so they continued with their lives as normal.
Yet, there are many, many more who do give. The reasons are varied; a desire to give back, make a difference, fulfill a mission, serve others, build a stronger community, create a better world for our children, and the list of possible motives can go on and on.
I have a favorite coffee shop. I enjoy sitting in this old building filled with charm and character while I sip on a latte`. I watch the world wake up to the beginning of another day. One source of entertainment comes from people entering and leaving. The door is clearly marked with the words—Pull. That means pull the door to open it. Some people read the sign. Some don’t. Those who ignore the words run right into the door. While I do not gain any pleasure in their pain or embarrassment, it does make me wonder.
Why don’t we open more doors for people? Giving of your time and talent opens doors for better world. You build a stronger community. You create change. You make a difference. You give the greatest gift of all—you give hope.
Dr. Randy Gregg continues to live in the small town that was flooded some 18 years ago. He is a leadership trainer and consultant for businesses of all sizes. His most recent book, Living YES in a NO World, helps people learn the deeper lessons of life while walking through adversity. He offers retreats, coaching, and resources designed to give encouragement and hope. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.