Giving time as a way of life

I’m addicted to volunteerism, starting with the time a friend asked me to proofread the cookbook her church was trying to put together. The text was a mess, and my heart swelled with gratitude, which isn’t as dangerous as it sounds. After five years at a bank I was ready to feel useful.

I canvassed for Timuel Black and Harold Washington in the early-’80s in Chicago and even spent a little time in the campaign office of the Green Party candidate for governor of Minnesota back when I had faith.

After I started taking screenwriting courses at Film in the Cities in Saint Paul, I began volunteering at the school’s movie theater downtown. I was Mr. Sunday Night for three years before I moved away to Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul became too hard to deal with at night on a bicycle in winter. I sold tickets and made popcorn and watched many dreary, obscure films—and now and then a wowser—and I picked up the trash afterward.

I joined the Professional Editors Network mostly to find a better job, so maybe that wasn’t volunteering so much as gambling my time like venture capital. As treasurer, I had to report at every meeting, so I would phone in the numbers while the meeting was in progress.

I also volunteered at the Science Museum of Minnesota, which required eight weeks of classes on the subjects I’d need in the Our Minnesota exhibit. I lasted a year and later wrote a history of Minnesota for children.

For five years I contributed essays From the Edge to Write On! Radio, a weekly show for writers and writing on KFAI in Minneapolis. I would get to the studio a few minutes before I was to go on, usually just after the calendar, and I’d be back home in time to hear the show’s outro. Smooth. For a while after moving to Chico, I did live call-ins. Even smoother.

My first volunteering in Chico was editing and designing the cover of Bidwell Beginnings by Jeanne Bose, published as part of the Bidwell Park Centennial hooplah. It was a great introduction to the area.

Since 2005 I’ve read essays From the Edge for KZFR, and still other volunteers put them on the air. I also give my time and money to 1078 Gallery, Red Hen Nursery, and the Chico Peace and Justice Center. You can, too.

As for the four nonprofit boards I’ve served on, suffice it to say that a buddy of mine made me promise to call him if I ever consider being a director again, and he’ll talk me out of it. He will, too, so don’t even think about it.