There is a book out there, The Origins of Virtue, that controversially pinpoints generosity and altruism as directly correlated with cellular, DNA-level survival needs. The author, Matt Ridley, argues that our cooperative instincts may have evolved as part of natural selfish behavior–by exchanging favors we can benefit ourselves as well as others. It is interesting to ponder why some people seem to be so full of the desire to help others while some people live their entire lives for their own or their family’s benefit. There are people that, no matter how cash-poor they are, give generously of their time and resources to others that need help, and people that have more money than they could spend in three lifetimes that cannot be bothered. Of course there are also very generous philanthropists. I know, I spend too much time thinking about inane and uselessly trivial things. Can’t help it. Whatever the reason, my husband, my kids and I all enjoy spending time, energy and money to aid people we do not personally know. It just feels right.
Last Friday morning, I left my home at the sunrise hour of 6:30 to trek to Rye Playland for an event created by TommieCares Organization: a day at the beach with physically and developmentally disabled children. When we gathered at the meeting place, the volunteers, ranging in age from ten to sixty and covering a representative New York diversity, quickly became a cohesive group. Our blue t-shirts and the organization’s black leader shirts, gave us an instant feeling of belonging and comeraderie. As we waited for instructions, many of us introduced ourselves to each other and asked the usual questions: how did you get connected to TommieCares? Have you done this before? Do you live around here or did you have to travel far to get here? In this way, we eschewed very quickly the awkwardness of strangers for the warm feeling of new friends and family.
The first thing I volunteered for in the set-up time before the kids arrived was to carry canoes from the truck to the water. I know a thing or two about canoes, and I figured that the couple of dozen of us who headed over to the parking lot would make short work of this assignment and be ready for the next. What I didn’t know was that the “canoes” fit ten people, were over twenty feet long, and weighed nearly four hundred pounds each. They had to be lifted up and over the straps holding them to the trailer, and then walked several hundred yards around a building, down a few steps, through some zigzag fencing and then across the sand to the water. Thank goodness there were only two of them. When it came time to return them to the truck at the end of the event, I made sure I was busy doing something else. I know my limits.
Once the children arrived with their families, it was time to check them in and await my “buddy” assignment. I was happy to meet my nine-year-old girl, who came with her mother and three younger siblings. She made a bee-line for the water, and it was all I could do to keep up with her. On the beach, the organization had set up stations: kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, swimming, an obstacle course and lots of toys. I coaxed my buddy towards the vests and helmets and managed to get them on her, and then talked her into a kayak ride. Her mother nervously shadowed us, trying to keep her other three in tow. After I gave her my “credentials” and shared some personal information about my own children, she relaxed and left us to take the others to the water. I saw her watching like a protective mommy hawk as I helped her daughter onto the kayak, where two trained volunteers held her and rowed her around for a short time. My buddy was rowing with an oar by the time they came back. After her little excursion, she was done with boats and spent the next two hours with me playing in the water. She enjoyed sitting, pretending to swim, and throwing water at me. We made a sand castle and wrote her name in the sand and walked around in the calm Long Island Sound, trying to stay cool. Did I mention that it was almost 100 degrees that day? This was right in the middle of our heat wave and it was more than a bit brutal trying to have fun and stay hydrated.
At the end of the morning, each child was given a medal for participation and the families left to use their free passes to spend the day at the Playland amusement park. There were hugs, smiles, appreciation, and applause for the participants and volunteers. Once the kids were gone, clean-up time began. I busied myself collecting and storing helmets and vests, sand toys, banners and signs and beach wheel chairs. I glanced over towards the canoes and felt relief that they seemed to have enough very strong-looking help. I guess word got out about the canoes.
In spite of the intense heat of the day, when even being in the water offered little relief, I left with a feeling of satisfaction, glad that I had spent my morning this way. As I searched for some of the photos of the day on their website, I noticed that TommieCares is planning a pool day in August for the same group of kids at Tibbets Brook Pool complex. You bet I signed right up.
Here’s a little history and etymology of “volunteering”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volunteering