John Dunham MDI Contributor
A big victory? That is easy. When participating in Community Service (CS), one wins on so many levels.
There are little triumphs in every such project that lead to the greater victory for those we serve and the ultimate victory for ourselves in the triumph over laziness and selfishness that will make us better men. Along the way, we’ll learn so many things that build character and enrich one’s spirit.
A life of contribution with community service is so rich. And it’s never too late to start. My story is an example.
At the end of June, I attended an inspection of my Tribe Atlas (MDI’s first virtual tribe), which had applied for Division status. After grilling our leadership and their efforts to impress and justify our claim, Western Front asked all members present to share the dark stuff – the things we might not be so proud of – or what was missing. I stated that I missed the community service aspect of face-to-face teams and attempted to explain what I see as the benefits and value of participating. So as a member of MDI since its inception, it came as no surprise to be asked to lead our tribe’s newly minted Community Service Initiative a few days later.
So perhaps I should define what I see as “community service.” I know some may think my definition too broad but I’m prepared to defend it. Community service, in my view, can be as simple as a few teammates getting together to help another man clean out his garage, or one man giving a passionate speech, asking for help with a worthy cause, or as big as converting a derelict inner-city bank into a second language school for a deprived community that required a year’s planning, months of weekend’s labour from combined divisions and unwavering support from our sister women’s organization and the local community.
Apart from the obvious benefit for the recipients, there are enormous, and I would argue greater, benefits to be had by the participants. I am a believer in the concept of “ownership” and the reality that the task will mold the man to its needs according to his level of commitment. So if the task requires woodworking, a man may acquire the skills of a carpenter. If it requires coordination and organization, he may acquire skills of a manager. If it needs money he may learn the skills of a fundraiser. If it requires leadership he may learn how to inspire, trust and delegate. And so on.
Community service is not simply free labour as some have mis-characterized it. Nor is it something which automatically bestows moral superiority on its participants, although it may bring some greater perspective.
Community service is an opportunity to win!
it’s an opportunity to learn from one’s peers, to acquire new skills, to improve relationships and develop new ones, to learn, to teach others and to practice leadership. These are but a few of the benefits of putting into action the teachings of MDI, but there are many others. Friendships, enrollment, the opportunity to work directly with women are frequently other indirect benefits. Indeed, I know several men who met their wives through co-ed Community Service Events.
Community service is an opportunity to become and meet heroes, not the phoney self-centered idols of sport or entertainment that the media too frequently mislabel “hero” despite their boorish behaviour. It’s reather the real-life men and women who make sacrifices to help their communities. Rescue a family by fixing their roof, help them move, raise money for and build playgrounds for disabled children, landscape gardens for women in shelters and provide Christmas gifts for their children. There are so many more opportunities to be a hero.
It is no accident that community service is recognized as the perfect training ground for leaders by many successful organizations, and indeed it is the foundational raison d’etre for extraordinary charities like the Shriners & Lions Club International founded more than a century ago.
Over the 22 years since I did my first Men’s Weekend, I have been privileged to serve on numerous projects, large and small, and I’ve learned something new and strengthened my relationship with others on every one.
Among the benefits, I have acquired:
- From building playgrounds (3): Broadened my range of carpentry skills.
- From roofing projects (6): Learned greater safety awareness and the importance of hydration.
- From construction projects (5): Learned how to pass on some of what I’ve learned.
- From carpentry projects: (7): Learned excellence is more useful than perfection.
- From landscaping an independent living project for the handicapped (1): How to build fences and cut and lay sod.
- From Painting projects (4 ): How to paint the entire interior of a 4 bedroom house in less than a day.
- From moving projects (20 plus): Preparation, organization and delegation skills.
- From fundraising projects (9): How to promote, deliver context and get others to give.
- From the women’s shelters projects (8): Humility, empathy and inspiration.
- From the Stonegate language school project (1): I learned far too many things to list.
From all of the above, I’ve also learned, acquired had strengthened or enhanced, my commitment over ego, pride in membership, the power of many, a taste for winning, ownership, greater integrity, increased self-confidence, more relevant CPRs, back planning, how to give clear instruction, to be an active listener, inspection, greater patience, how to deal with mistakes, how to ask for help, respect for rank, not to make stuff up and to be a good follower. Yet there is still more, I’ve learned that truly 3-dimensional men love to help others, that there are few things more enrolling than a group of men publicly doing something to benefit a community. I’ve also never had more fun, enjoyed greater camaraderie or made more enduring friendships.
Obviously, the learning of any skill that can be taught and reused has value, but more importantly through action, the lessons we learn come to life in the service of others and are reinforced by seeing them work.
Leadership requires inspiration, trust in others, commitment, organization, preparation, delegation and inspection skills to name just a few. Community service is a place to practice them all.
Studies also claim service provides health benefits, including feeling more socially connected, warding off loneliness and depression and having a greater sense of purpose, not to mention the reduction of cardiovascular diseases caused by hypertension and the lowering of blood pressure.
So far I’ve focused on what’s in it for participants, but I should comment on what’s at stake for our communities. The benefits for recipients may seem obvious. “Something gets done, right!” However the hidden benefits to communities are also too often ignored. Such service can and often does fill gaps in government services. It also unites and enrolls others behind a cause. It validates the worth of recipients while reinforcing the strength of the community, and it is also a major contributor to societies and their economies. (If you care to see more, just Google “community service US” or “volunteerism in the US.” The results may surprise you.
I’m 65, still learning. I welcome any opportunity to get my hands dirty so to speak. For my online tribe, Atlas, community service presents unique challenges. Nevertheless. I’m confident with the creativity and commitment of our men, none are insurmountable and since the COVID-19 restrictions we are all in the same boat. Regardless, I remain convinced through personal experience that CS provides opportunities, experiences and benefits too valuable and rewarding to lose. Therefore, I suggest it is incumbent on us to ensure this vital aspect of our organization continues to be available especially for new members. I believe our growth will be enhanced by its growth.
In summary, If you want to grow your humanity, challenge your perceptions, gain some perspective, use what you’ve learned, learn some more, have fun, make enduring friendships and get the opportunity to meet some wonderful women, I urge you to get involved.
I’d like to acknowledge a number of our teams throughout MDI that continue their CS efforts in spite of the virus and congratulate them on their continued commitment. They are examples for us all.
Finally, I need hardly remind you that our organization’s mission statement holds the final words: “successful families, careers and communities.”
I believe these words are there to remind, inspire and call on us to look beyond ourselves, our teams and divisions, move up the “World Sucks Chart” and become bigger players in our fight to become better men.
And if that is not worthy of the term VICTORY … I don’t know what is.
Tribe Atlas is now working on three scalable CS projects, and it welcomes any inquiries that may help others get started or extend our reach. John Dunham can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.