One of the joys of our work here at Hands On Nashville is that we get to thank people for their caring hearts and their gift of time. As 2011 draws to a close, I want to share a very special “thank you” relayed to me by a flood survivor I met recently as volunteers completed work on her home.
When I arrived, I was met by an energetic woman in her 70’s. Fifteen volunteers busily completed finishing touches on her home. Looking for someone to hug, she found me and wrapped me in a heartfelt embrace. After shedding a few tears, she told me her story.
This woman and her family, like so many others, were displaced during the flood in May 2010. The home had been her grandmother’s, and she lived there with one of her children and her two grandchildren. Not knowing what to do after the water receded, she packed up her family and began a journey that included living with friends, a rental home, a hotel, and finally ended back in the part of her home that had been unaffected. Then, she was able to identify help and begin the recovery process. Today was the day, however, that she thought would never come. The day, in her words, that “our house becomes a home again.”
She gave me a tour of the home and pointed out the new carpet volunteers had installed and the new paint and plumbing that had been finished. She also talked about the familiar noises the house makes, the spot you can sit in during the summer and feel the cool breeze blow through the kitchen window, and the places where memories of her grandmother still linger. Our tour ended, and as I walked to the front door some of the volunteers gathered to ask a few questions. As we talked, the homeowner quietly began to cry. She said through teary eyes, “I can’t believe that total strangers would come into my home to help. I just can’t believe how kind people are.” Those words have stayed with me: total strangers here to help. That is volunteerism. That is the spirit of service.
To the total stranger who shows up to help: Thank You. Rarely are volunteers put on a grand stage and thanked in the way they deserve. But still you show up to help your neighbors and your community with your gifts of time and your caring heart. Whether you help flood survivors, sort food, mentor a child, or work in a community garden, it is your individual effort and the combined efforts of this remarkable volunteer community that change lives every day.