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Seeing ‘heart worth’ of a volunteer

Lottie Fay Harmon (from l.), Kelli Coleman, and Lisa Coleman, at Harmon's Restaurant, in Paris, Miss. on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

By Lisa Coleman

The most valuable thing a person can give is their time. I never really understood this until about six years ago.

Throughout the years I had volunteered as a Brownie leader but I still truly didn’t understand how valuable volunteering was. In 2006, I went to work for The Salvation Army, a rewarding and busy job. I ran the day-to-day operations of a store and office. We had volunteers come and go helping us in our thrift store; I was thankful for their time but didn’t truly appreciate it.

In 2008, a tornado hit our small town, destroying homes and business and even caused loss of life. My duty as the director of our county Salvation Army was to be on site to feed and hydrate workers, families, search teams and volunteers. This was the first time I had ever seen such destruction up close and personal. It was so cold the rain steadily pouring down, people in frantic mode trying to get into areas that were unreachable. I remember standing there handing one cup of hot coffee after the next to all these people and thinking to myself, “Wow this is really what volunteering is all about.”

On each face I stared upon, I saw a heart of real worth. These men and women were cold, wet and muddy but continued into the dark working to get to these unreachable areas, trying to give assistance to a fellow neighbor in their time of need.

I worked that post for four long days and in those days I saw new and old volunteers come to give their assistance. I could see the tired eyes on so many. They were helping until late at night, returning home, getting up going to a normal day at work and returning to volunteer their time at night. From that day on, I have the most respect and admiration for a volunteer.

As an employee of an organization that thrives on its volunteers I will never take them for granted or not appreciate them again. I wanted to become a volunteer. I wanted to help my fellow neighbors. I wanted to feel real worth. I knew being an Salvation Army employee, it was my job to be in disasters helping others and I did not feel complete satisfaction that I was helping to the fullest of my ability — I wanted to volunteer my time. I realized that time was the most valuable thing a person could give and I wanted to give it.

I began to search for my place out in this world where I could give my time. In the end I was overwhelmed at so many places that I could give my time to. I first went to the local Head Start and read a book to a room of the cutest 4-year-olds I had ever seen. I went to The Pantry and helped an elderly lady push a buggy down aisles of donated food. I worked a hydration booth on a local 5k run for MS. Even though I felt happiness within for each volunteer choice I had made I just couldn’t seem to get that feeling of worth I was looking for.

Christmas time was just around the corner and for the Salvation Army it is a major part of the year. We have kettle season and it is one of the biggest fundraisers any organization can have around the world. Running a kettle season is like a having another full-time job on top of the one I already have. No time to rest though, Angle Tree, another large project for Salvation Army, was ready to begin.

Angel Tree is a Christmas program that helps families with toys and clothes for the holiday season. I had applications to take, applications to process, and I had to get these children adopted out. We use the term adopted to the children we have on our Angel Tree. Families, churches or organizations come in and adopt a child from our tree and they purchase toys and clothes for them. I want to make sure children have a wonderful Christmas, so working hard to have them each adopted is important.

By the grace of God a special woman came into my life. This woman attended a local church in my town and wanted to adopt 75 families for Christmas. This special woman was unbelievable to me. She picked up her angels, which totaled about 135 kids. Two weeks later, carloads after carload of women were dropping off large black garbage bags full of toys and clothes. Each of these women were volunteering their time to help bring the Angel Tree gifts to the Salvation Army. Each of these women talked about how special the lady was who organized their church’s giving. This woman gave so much of herself to help others. She wanted to make sure each child was taken care of and they had an abundance of gifts. This special woman stayed at the church through the night sleeping in an armchair making sure each bag was perfect for each child.

Then, and only then, did I feel the “heart worth.” Volunteering and “heart worth” is not what you feel in your heart for yourself but what you feel in your heart for others. This lady got no recognition from the families or children she helped — this lady never saw any one of these people. This lady imagined in her heart the smiles of the children on Christmas morning when they saw what Santa had left them and that brought her heart joy and heart worth. Through her selflesness and volunteering she brought my heart self-worth.

Through your time and time from others we can all experience “heart worth.” Helping one another by volunteering your time and appreciating the time others give will overwhelm your heart with satisfaction and love.

Lisa Coleman is the executive director of The Salvation Army in Oxford. You can reach her at Lisa_colemman@uss.salvationarmy.