Recently, I sat in on a Bernalillo County Commission meeting in Albuquerque. It was fascinating to learn how the county works, and as speakers addressing different topics stepped forward with presentations and requests, it was refreshing to see people communicating civilly. The public comments were well-controlled and timed; yet people got to say exactly what they wanted to say, and the others listened respectfully.
During the meeting, the Bernalillo County Manager called up six people and explained why they had been chosen as employees of the month. She shared some personal things about each recipient, which really drove home that these employees are real people—not just job titles. The details were small and intimate: One employee likes to build Lego sculptures with his son; another loves Disney; another reads voraciously.
That reminded me of a rewards and recognition committee I once chaired at the VA. We honored employees of the month, too, and also gave out a “Shirt off Your Back” and “Supervisor of the Quarter” award.
Whereas the presentation at the County Commission meeting was brief and formal, our VA’s town hall is very lively. One committee member bakes hundreds of cupcakes for every single one of the town halls. It’s her way of giving back to her fellow employees. She does it on her own time and uses her own resources.
I remember when I decided to become a board member for our homeowner’s association. Years ago, at one of the meetings, there were several angry homeowners venting and raging at the board. Suddenly one of them said, “I should join this board because you guys suck!” At that point, although I had not planned to, I stood up and volunteered to be on the board. I figured I could do a better job than that guy. Whether or not it’s true, I’ll never know, but I did get a healthy respect for what it’s like to serve on a board of directors. (Please be kind to your voluntary homeowner’s association board!)
When I was a young army wife, all of us wives in the regiment were invited to the Commander’s town hall meeting. We knew something significant was going to happen because of the wording on the memo.
Once we assembled, the Commander informed us that our husbands were going to be deploying to the Middle East. Everyone sat quietly, processing the news. Some women wept; others talked with their neighbors. The Commander had a difficult job. He wanted to reassure us, but also wanted to stress that whether we liked it or not, he couldn’t prevent the deployment. His wife walked around reassuring us that we could handle this. Her soft-spoken words and quick smile did more for us than any number of “official” assurances did.
My son, when he was a PFC, attended a mandatory town hall meeting at which a suicide prevention training was presented. Like many of the young people in attendance, he viewed the training as merely something to be endured. Yet, a few days later, he was confronted with a distraught fellow soldier who expressed that he wanted to die. Having not unpacked his rucksack from the town hall, my son used the handouts from that training to work through the situation and to determine the next course of action. And, following his own instincts, he ordered them both a pizza to share.
What all these town halls have in common is an element of “service.” County commissioners, federal and local employees serve the public. Citizens choose to serve voluntarily on boards or committees to make their slice of the world a little better. People check in with each other to make sure they’re doing okay.
It’s obvious that the military members serve, but so do their spouses and kids. They share their service member with Uncle Sam; they lend him or her to the mission, and many of them choose, while waiting for their loved one to come back from wherever the military has sent them, to serve by volunteering—in spouse or chapel support groups, in school programs, or any number of voluntary positions on or off base.
When I look around our own East Mountain community, I’m awed by how many people—despite their very busy lives—volunteer. Our food pantries, service organizations, animal shelters, and schools would not function nearly as well if dedicated volunteers didn’t step in to help.
Our museum also depends on volunteers to serve on the board and to act as docents. To many non-profits, large and small, volunteers—or the lack thereof—can make or break an organization. Volunteers are vital.
So, to all of you wonderful volunteers out there—I thank you for your service!
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.