After many years living away in Chicago, I returned to Springfield. My son moved to campus when he started college, so I was able to say, “Where do I want to live?” My parents were still in Springfield, and I thought it was a great place. So that was my choice.
words + photographs RENIE MCCLAY
>> Give 5 for retirees <<
This past year, I heard about Give 5, a free program offered through United Way of the Ozarks, where retirees are introduced to different community/charitable groups. It is like a matchmaking service for people looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities and organizations needing assistance. I found it educational, useful and inspiring for me, and I was connected to some charitable groups that interested me greatly.
>> I hunted Easter eggs at Harmony House <<
One place I volunteered was Harmony House. Harmony House provides services and shelter for domestic and partner abuse survivors. I have been able to assist with parties for the families residing there. One time that I helped included hiding Easter eggs for a hunt and helping kids to make pinecone bird feeders. My son is grown; it has been a long time since I have hidden or hunted for eggs and treats. What is more fun than that? I found it fun getting to know the staff, which is doing amazing things, as well as interacting with the kids. Harmony House uses volunteers as kitchen helpers, sorting and stocking donated clothes, cleaning, and help with fundraising events.
>> A second grader reads to me at Ozarks Literacy Council <<
Another organization I connected with through Give 5 is the Ozarks Literacy Council. I am now a weekly tutor for an adorable second grader who wants to improve her reading skills.
We meet in a library weekly. Our goal is to raise her reading skills by two full grade levels. She is very hard working and making progress. And I have seen such exciting successes of this happening with others. Students not proficient in reading have a higher high school dropout rate. This is a great way to serve the community with an eye on reducing poverty, one person at a time. The adults studying are preparing for better employment opportunities. I attended an Ozarks Literacy Council training, which I was very grateful for since I did not study education as a profession. They supply the materials you need and ask you for an hour a week with a young person or an adult. She gets a new book weekly that she reads to me. We then have activities or interactions with the book content or vocabulary. We also work on sight words, and maybe more. I also plan on reading books to preschool classrooms, which is another way to serve. The Council also has volunteer opportunities in the office and at events.
>> A small act of compassion spreads <<
Opportunities to volunteer come from different places. While watching the news one evening, I saw some overflow shelters were going to open overnight during the bitterly cold weather. My husband, Mike, and I wanted to help out with Brentwood Christian Church. This was specifically open with the temperature projected to be freezing or below, and it was approaching zero. While we were not comfortable in a pandemic physically working the night shift, we donated needed clothing items and snacks and made sandwiches for them. It was actually an enjoyable task to make sandwiches together and deliver them with masks and gloves.
Mike explained what we were doing, and the shopper said, “I know a family that can use some help.” He got out of the line to purchase things for them.
One week, my husband was in the grocery line buying several loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly, and bunches of bananas. The man next in line asked Mike if he was okay, if he needed anything, and that he was happy to pitch in for the groceries. I found this to be very observant and sweet. Mike explained what we were doing, and the shopper said, “I know a family that can use some help.” He got out of the line to purchase things for them.
The cashier also had a positive attitude about it and planned on spreading the word. It was fun to see a small action of compassion spread.
I must confess that during the pandemic, every day felt like Groundhog Day. We did the same things, no interesting events, few gatherings with friends and family. Being able to provide needed items, make sandwiches, and other seemingly mundane things took on a new meaning. Many people did much more than me. But pitching in where I can feels good. Now that places and opportunities are opening up more, there are even more opportunities to serve.
My parents demonstrated helping those in need as I grew up. It feels great to share and donate. It opens the heart and creates a better connection to the community. RM