Sunday, October 14, 2012

In Praise of Service Work

My Junior League bakery where
I "baked" mud pies.
I grew up in an upper middle class family in Fort Worth where my roots stretched back a couple of generations. As a general rule, the women in the family were stay-at-home-moms, but that didn't mean they actually stayed at home. They had help with housework and laundry, like our sweet Oneida, so there was no real reason to hang around the house.

My mother was frequently out and about. Of course, she had weekly appointments at the beauty shop so her poofy hair didn't get too flat, and she did the grocery shopping. But she also did a bunch of service work. Yes, as a "society matron" it was expected of her, but both of my parents believed in giving back to the community. Mother was active in the Junior League, Red Cross, social organizations, and her church. My father was more interested in the arts, and aimed his support in that direction. 

My efforts at service work started early as I dutifully made mud pies for the Junior League. A few years later, a neighbor and I put a carnival together to benefit Muscular Dystrophy. We organized a great carnival, raised some money and got our picture in the paper. Service projects continued throughout my life, either through church or my own stint in the Junior League. The JL seems to have gotten a bad rap over the years as a snooty society-only outfit, but that is far from the truth. It is involved in numerous volunteer and fund raising activities, providing money and manpower (excuse me, woman-power) to a variety of organizations.

It wasn't until I got sober that I saw the personal benefit of service work. Self-centered fear resides at the core of every alcoholic, and the only way I have found to combat it is by being of service to others. My first sponsor told me to do something every day for someone else. The clincher was that I couldn't tell anyone about it. Even something as small as changing a roll of toilet paper was enough. 

Over the years I've had many opportunities for service work, whether it was cleaning up after an event, giving someone a ride to a meeting, carrying the message into jails and prisons, or leaving home in the middle of the night to help another alcoholic in distress. Regardless of the outcome, I was the one to receive the true gift of service work by taking the focus off myself and putting it on someone else.

Luckily, you don't have to be an alcoholic to do service work, or to benefit from it. If you aren't currently involved with an organization in your community, find one that interests you. Most will be very accommodating in helping you find your niche, and, with so many financial cut backs,  many are in desperate need of volunteers. You can generally allot as much or as little time as your schedule allows, but, I promise, your time will be well spent. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture; I don't make mud pies anymore, but I continue to change toilet paper rolls every chance I get.

Are you active in your church or community? How do you view service work?

Have you been there?

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Yes! I've been there, Claire!