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Why I Volunteer

Learning how to value the single life

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I'm certain there are nearly as many reasons why people volunteer to help others as there are individuals who volunteer. For me, it was learning to cope with my wife's death.

Like many of us, I had become a familiar witness to homeless people living on the streets. Like others, I often chose to ignore their plight or to assuage my conscience and feed my ego by handing them a few dollars and walking on. These people were anonymous and not like me, right?

One day, my bereavement counselor handed me a poem written by Molly Fumia. It spoke about that point when one truly enters into sadness, there comes "a precious moment of understanding the absolute value of one human being" and that "you will remember what you have learned, and never allow a single life to be devalued again."

Reading this poem was an epiphany. I knew suddenly that the best way for me to address such devaluation of human life was to work with people who were homeless.

A week later, I was volunteering at my first Friday morning breakfast for the homeless.

The effects went far beyond providing a bowl of warm oatmeal and a cup of coffee to these folks. I left that morning feeling better than I had for many months. It was a feeling close to the "precious moment of understanding" that Molly Fumia wrote about.

Since that day, I have come to know the people on both sides of the table at the homeless breakfasts. I have come to appreciate them as individuals. I have learned that homelessness is a problem as complex as human society, and that there is great wisdom in the old saying that "there but for the grace of God go I."

Thanks to Catholic Charities and the staff and clients whom I interact with every week, I am once again making my life meaningful and happy.

John Brundage is a Santa Rosa resident and volunteer for Catholic Charities.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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