Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Month of Service

This month has flown by and I feel like I have done nothing towards my blog project. How is this possible? I am in the midst of month seven and what do I have to show for my efforts? I have put in so much time contacting the aquarium, a park ranger, two soup kitchens and a few bartenders to try and volunteer/shadow with no success.

Well, no success is a little harsh. I have had numerous conversations with the aquarium folks who seem so nice and I would feel so lucky for a few days there. I spoke with one soup kitchen a half hour away since the local down-the-street place apparently does not return phone calls or emails for volunteers but the farther away place has been just delightful and I have a volunteer gig there next week. I came across a few bartending options which included a non-profit catering towards fundraisers and someone local who bar tends on the side looking for someone to assist at a real serving gig. While I loved the idea of hosting a benefit for a brain cancer foundation to raise money and awareness for the disease which took my mother's young life, I can barely find time to work at my volunteer projects, make my work hours and schedule a trip to the grocery store these days. The bartender looking for assistance thought I had some experience and wanted support at a chabad event in DC. Due to my lack of drink coordination beyond the basic rum and coke, I was unable to fulfill that role.

So here I am mid-March and I started wondering how have I been spending my time this month. And suddenly it all came clear. I have been volunteering each week, little by little, but rather than it being a planned monthly excursion as glamorous as my ideas above, I have been quietly fitting in environmental research and support to green my synagogue on a weekly basis. I launched the green committee at my shul when I first moved to the area. Its been a small venture since then, slowly gaining steam through a Tu B'shvat seder, mini recycling program of commingled containers and paper and now has expanded to include an energy efficiency initiative, green purchasing program for cleaning supplies and paper goods and an eco arts table at the purim carnival.

I have input all of the synagogue's energy bills into the EPA/DOE's Portfolio Manager online tool and we have applied to become the first synagogue in the US to earn the ENERGY STAR label for houses of worship. Fifteen churches have earned this distinction but never a synagogue. Its a long story I will not go into here but as a technology-neutral program, Portfolio Manager actually tries to place emphasis not just on those buildings which have the fancy state of the art windows and boilers but also those facilities which operate as a green building, i.e. not lighting and heating the 500+ seat sanctuary for weekday minyan when a 100 seater chapel will do. We may not have the fancy equipment, but our energy use is so low for our sized space just by our operating decisions. I have poured months of work into what is currently under review in some office building in DC and should this come into fruition, the hype and promotion could be huge.

So perhaps this month isnt a total wash after all. Some volunteering in my local community has taken place and hopefully some soup kitchen/food pantry assistance will also take place during the last two weeks of the month. I have donated clothes to Goodwill, dropped off extra toiletries for the local shelter's drive at my daughter's pre-school, and ran an eco arts booth where kids decorated Purim baskets made out of recycled plastic containers that we collected from shul families.

Sometimes volunteering time can come in the form of little things that pop up all around us every day that we put off until we have time for spring cleaning or we know the people in need. But maybe its those mundane needs of the community that call to us in a way that we often dont hear where we can be the most helpful. Sure everyone can and should send money to Japan or provide support to the survivors of the family in Itamar, Israel. But we are also needed here to do our parts and carve out our roles to help those around us. Maybe its not a perfect month in the making but maybe thats the point afterall. Just giving where we can one day at a time.

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