by Joy Williams
I can think of no other work more rewarding than service to others. Its rewards are simultaneously twofold, in that by helping others, the provider of the service also becomes enriched. The education a person receives by working for the common good is phenomenal. And the people you meet and work with along the way are truly special.
Volunteer work began in 1971 with the Cub Scouts in East Orange, NJ. I served as a den leader and then a den leader coach for six years. As a den mother, I involved the boys in environmental activities, which helped to improve the neighborhood and showed the boys firsthand the importance of concern for the environment. I like to think that the lessons they learned about the environment and conservation were carried with them through life.
The work with training den mothers helped to keep the "ball" rolling as far as passing on skills to others. Leaders in scouting usually stay only a couple of years, while their son is involved in the program. Even though the women who were trained did not continue in scouting roles for a long period of time, what they learned in the training sessions could be put to use within their families in the upbringing of their own children. This organization as a whole is useful in a number of ways to children, adults and communities. In my opinion, though, there are some things—policy issues dealing with homosexuality and religion—that could be reworked to make the organization more inclusive and valuable.
During the '70s I formed a block association in my immediate neighborhood and would hold monthly meetings at my home. Neighbors got to know one another, speak about their concerns, and together work on finding solutions to common problems. There were times when city officials needed to be invited to our meetings, and they would attend as well. It was obvious that having the block association helped people feel that they were not alone in dealing with issues that were important to them. Being connected to a group of concerned neighbors, the "hood" took on a friendlier atmosphere. But, alas, neighborhoods change. Drug use started to invade the neighborhood, with crack selling for $5 a "pop" in the 1970s, young people got hooked on the stuff, crime increased, neighbors moved. The block association folded. But while it lasted, it was a good thing.
Starting in 1971 I worked as executive secretary for the New Jersey Division of the United Nations Association, a state-wide non-profit educational organization. I worked for a board of directors and served the organization's membership throughout New Jersey. I wrote, produced and mailed to the state membership a quarterly newsletter, coordinated seminars, obtained various speakers and arranged for honoraria. I also transcribed tapes from various seminars and fulfilled membership requests. Most exciting was the coordination of statewide activities for United Nations Day and working closely with annually appointed state U.N. Day chairs. Work with the UNA opened up a whole new vista for me. From local concerns, my attention now was focused on world problems and possibilities. Working for the UNA taught me to envision a better world for all people by joining others in co-creating that world. I was committed.
My work with the UNA also included work for UNICEF, selling UNICEF gifts and greeting cards, and helping in other assistance programs. For example, in the 1970s Bangladesh was just coming out of a war and there was a terrible flood there. The NJ Division of UNA worked very hard with the UNICEF initiative to obtain financial relief and rehabilitation aid for the people in Bangladesh. I remember that my husband and children got really involved in helping with this and, together, we quickly got out a 2,500-piece mailing to the NJ membership for relief efforts for UNICEF.
I continued to work with the UNA and, in 1985, began doing work for Global Learning a couple of days a week. (My five children were getting older and didn't place such heavy demands on my time; so there was more time to learn, to grow, and to give.) Global Learning is a non-profit educational organization that provides resources, workshops, presentations, and curriculum development on sustainable development and conflict resolution. They also had a conflict managers program for NJ schools and provided networking resources.
At Global Learning, I transcribed tapes on conflict resolution from workshops that were conducted in New Jersey public schools. I also worked in acquiring books (free of charge) from publishers to help develop a peace studies library at Global Learning. The books were made available to educators and others. I should say, at this point, how much I respect the work that has been done by the director and associate director of this organization. The work that these two people have done—just TWO people!—is unbelievable.
Along the way I helped people with tape transcriptions for various books, assisted with deciphering "cryptic" notes for the typing of dissertations, manuscripts, etc. I also assisted people in a wide range of research typing and correspondence. I researched and then prepared applications for grants and fellowships, etc. Lots of work... lots of dedicated people who strive diligently to co-create a better world.
In 1990, my family and I moved to Indiana. My husband died six months after the move. I had to get a job pretty darn quick and found an opening at Valparaiso University. The university is distinguished by its Lutheran heritage and offers strong programs of liberal and professional studies. It's a small school of about 3,800 students. I have worked here since 1991 and feel good about my affiliation with the university because I know it is doing a fantastic job of educating young people. I work as an assistant editor in the communications section, which includes publication of the university's alumni magazine.
I hope that my small contribution in the area of public service and non-profit work throughout the years has helped in strengthening the foundation that this world needs to create a peaceful and just and loving world. One thing is for sure—thinking back to my Cub Scout days, which really started me on this public service/non-profit route—it is as rewarding as can be when grown men, whom you had as Cub Scouts at age eight, reminisce: "Remember when we walked around the neighborhood with the plastic bags collecting all the trash people threw on the ground?" I smile...because I know the lessons have stayed with them through the years.
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