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This past weekend, I travelled out to a boy scout camp in Pocahontas County for West Virginia’s statewide search and rescue exercise, involving nearly 26 fire departments, search and rescue teams, and other emergency services agencies.  It was a great opportunity for groups to work together in the very real scenario of a scout getting lost at camp.  This weekend was the second so far this year I’ve devoted to search and rescue training and the 36 hours I spent “on scene” represent just a small fraction of the time I have devoted to search and rescue in the past 3+ years and to volunteering in general throughout my life.

Today’s post however, is NOT about tooting my own horn.  Far from it.  Today’s post is about urging others to do something “toot-worthy,” urging others to join me in my efforts.  As an outgoing and friendly guy, and as a representative 50% of my SAR team’s active college students (the other is Christian, my roommate from freshman year) I often get the questions “how can we get more college students?”  and “how can we get more people involved in general?”  This discussion has popped up around the campfire during weekend training, not once, but twice this year, and as I said, tends to be a fairly regular topic.

It’s a hard question to answer, but I believe the first step is knowing what PREVENTS people from being interested in volunteering.  Keep in mind that while my examination of the things that keep people from volunteering is taken from an emergency services perspective, a lot of these things can relate back to ANY type of volunteering.  I’ve essentially broken it down into three categories.

1. “They don’t need me, they’ve got enough people already.”

Please, take it from someone who has been in the position of managing volunteers in different situations in the past: it is MUCH more comfortable to have more volunteers than you know what to do with, than to have too few and be overburdening those volunteers you do have.  Volunteer organizations, particularly emergency services agencies RELY on an at least somewhat constant inflow of volunteers.  It’s just like any other job, people are constantly “retiring” and/or quitting, and in those cases, there need to be people ready to step up to the plate and fill those empty shoes.

This whole mentality relates very closely to the bystander effect in which people don’t help because they think there’s a significant enough pool of other people to help.  This is the same psychological reasoning behind a dozen people idly watching a man have a heart attack, or hundreds driving past a stranded motorist.  This type of thinking just doesn’t help our society; sure, maybe someone will pick up your slack today, but what about tomorrow?

2. “I don’t have enough time to volunteer.”

In the emergency services world, people who have this argument against volunteering are likely in a position of hearing their local fire department siren at all hours of the day, or seeing a neighbor who is a firefighter responding to calls numerous times during a week.

Let me tell you a secret…  Once you get that first shot of adrenaline from being able to help someone, it becomes especially hard to ignore it in the future.  When you’re involved in a smaller department or agency, you begin to recognize the fallacy of the bystander effect; you begin to realize that if you don’t help, maybe no one else will, maybe there won’t be enough firefighters to help prevent total loss at a house fire, or enough searchers to find the toddler that wandered into the woods behind their home.

Your neighbor on the fire department, or search team, or ambulance squad doesn’t leave his family at all hours of night and day because he HAS to, he does so because he NEEDS to, and because his COMMUNITY needs him to.

Here’s the trick to all of that though, and this goes back to number one as well: It doesn’t have to be that way.  More volunteers means less stress on each individual volunteer.  An agency with 50 volunteers as opposed to 25 mean that you can get the same level of service (usually even better) while the individual volunteers themselves have to give less of their time.

So my suggestion to you, if you’re afraid of time commitment?  Find a friend or two (or three, or four, or five?) to volunteer with you.  That’s less stress on you, less guilt when you have to miss the “big call” for your mother-in-law’s birthday, and you’re still serving your community.

3. “I only have time to volunteer for stuff that relates to my career path and goals.”

This one is especially prominent among college students, who in the face of a difficult job market are often trying to do anything and everything to add an extra line to their resume and look that much more appealing to an employer.  Even out in the professional world, it’s easy to find businessmen and women with the mentality of “I’m a …..  how can volunteering on the ambulance/fire department/rescue team/etc. help me?”

The problem with this, which is ESPECIALLY pertinent to emergency services is that if the only volunteers were people who using this as a steppingstone into a better job, volunteer fire departments would end up made up only of aspiring firefighters, ambulance squads staffed with aspiring nurses and doctors, and search and rescue teams would find themselves made up of future park rangers.  While this may not seem like a problem on the surface, emergency services agencies filled with driven people who are passionate about emergency services, it wouldn’t be enough.  There simply are not enough of those types of people to fill these roles.

Things like fire departments NEED people like lawyers, if not to assist with emergency operations and physically fighting fires, than maybe to do the legal stuff for them.  It’s that simple.  And for college kids, it’s even easier, one of the things I’m working on for search and rescue is creating a handout listing some of the most prominent majors at WVU and elaborating on how volunteering with search and rescue can benefit people in those programs.  The coolest part?  It’s not hard at all!  Just about anyone can take just about any volunteer gig and find a way to make it their own, whether by adapting their skills to the good of the organization they’re working with, or adapting the skills they learn volunteering to make them better at their chosen vocation/major.

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If you’ve made it this far, I will honestly say I’m impressed.  Either you already volunteer in some way, or you’ve been close to doing so before but hesitated for some reason, or maybe you just really enjoy reading my blog (I’m looking at you mom and dad).

But if you’ve made it this far, you’ve read my major points, but you have yet to get my MAIN point, the “take-home lesson” if you will.  I’m extremely passionate about volunteering, and extremely passionate about emergency services. I DON’T expect YOU to be.  I’m not asking you to run out and join your local fire department or to immediately pursue some other volunteer activity, emergency services or otherwise.  I’m not trying to guilt you into volunteering.

What I’m asking is that you take a moment and think about it, and if you’ve never volunteered, ask yourself why that is?  And ask yourself if that reason is truly legitimate, or if maybe, just maybe it’s just an imaginary wall you put up that can be easily stepped around.  It’s not about being a hero; don’t wait for your opportunity to be a hero. Start with baby steps, with the little things you can start doing to help your community.

You just don’t get it, do you? An army is nothing! ‘Cause those ordinary people, they’re the key. The most ordinary person could change the world! Some ordinary man or woman… Some idiot…

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In the past few days, I’ve gone from wearing to jeans, to very nearly needing snowpants, to shorts, and now back to jeans…  This weather is ridiculous, BUT, as I walked to the PRT today, it occurred to me, that maybe it’s a God-send.

It’s April folks! We have three and a half weeks of class left…  Two and a half if you don’t count dead week.  We’re almost done with the school year, but it doesn’t feel like it, because it’s been cold, because we’ve had all of a handful of days where you could go outside without a jacket, and even fewer where shorts were acceptable.

If Spring had come early and stayed, we might be at the point of wearing shorts and t-shirts everyday, with dozens of people taking time after classes to sun themselves at “Towers Beach.”  But if that were the case, we’d all be extremely burnt out by now, ready to soak up the sun and enjoy summer.

I dunno, I’m random, and rambling, but like I said, I’m thankful that it’s still chilly, it will just make me that much more grateful when I finish my last exam and am able to enjoy the summer.

Snoooooow

March 30, 2011… The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh is calling for snow throughout the region, with noticeable accumulation in higher elevations.  And all throughout the region, people are blaming a groundhog.

Punxsutawney Phil really has a crappy, lose-lose sort of job.  Either he predicts a long winter and he’s suddenly the force of evil, people imagining him being able to physically lengthen the cold weather regardless of whether or not his prediction proves true, or he predicts an early spring, and he’s wrong and again, the rodent is the root of all evil.  I guess of course, he has the ability to predict an early spring, and for there to actually BE an early spring, but how often does that happen?

Not-So-Happy Endings…

I ended up going back down to West Virginia to participate in a search yesterday morning.  For as many happy endings as there are with search and rescue, there are always the ones that aren’t.  Charleston Daily Mail picked up the story, which you can read here. The man’s mother and step-father both took time to pause and wipe away their tears to thank us each individually before we headed home.  In these types of incidents where we can’t provide a happy ending, we can at least go home knowing that we provided some closure.

On a lighter, and only somewhat related note, I happened to stumble across this video from TED last night.  I promise my enjoyment of it has more to it than the fact that the speaker is a volunteer firefighter (in his turnout gear, no less) and that he in fact, has a really great message in his 5 minute talk.  Take a look at it.

His message is simple… You don’t have to be a hero, to fight fire or save lives to make a difference in your community, a simple act of kindness can do a world of good.

Jono Update

So I’ve been very bad at keeping up to date with my blogging lately.  As a result of which, I’ve decided to give you half a dozen little snapshots into the different pieces of my life that normally blog about:

  • PostAWeek: At the beginning of the year, I took the WordPress PostAWeek challenge, pledging to post an update at least once a week…  Judging by the MONTH it’s been since my last post, I failed, but I’m coming at it with renewed vigor.  At least for the next week or two.
  • Search and Rescue: We did several really cool search and rescue trainings in the past month or two, but the biggest thing coming down the pipe is our adventure race.  In searching for something that could be large, annual and consistently profitable fundraiser, my team, the Mountaineer Area Rescue Group has decided to hold a 12 hour adventure race in Preston County, WV.  If you’re interested in having your butt kicked by an adventure race, check out 2011 Backwoods Bootcamp.
  • Annoying Things: Lots of things annoy me.  Annoying things tend to in fact be one of my favorite topics to blog about.  I’ve been told that my rants typically involve things that really are truly annoying to a lot of people, but are things that they tend to not necessarily realize just how annoying they are until I point it out…  Does that make ME annoying for pointing out those annoying things?
  • Rachel Carson Challenge: I’m still in “training” for the 34 mile Rachel Carson Challenge.  I got my REI dividend this week, and it’s a pretty decent chunk, so I’ll be picking up a new pair of boots before this weekend in hopes of breaking them in.
  • Life: Life is good, and above all, life is interesting.  I’m very near a certain and concise answer to what I’m doing after graduation.  That’s one of those things that I’ll undoubtedly be writing about later.
Finally… Amusing note that those of you who are my facebook friends will already know…  I went to Barnes & Noble today (no surprise there, it’s one of my favorite stores) and I was horrified to find an entire bookcase dedicated to “Teen Paranormal Romance.”
Imagine my horror when I took two steps and saw immediately next to it, a SECOND book case labeled “NEW Teen Paranormal Romance.”
What is this world coming to?

My Nurse Natalie Story

Today, Natalie George will be laid to rest, and being unable to attend the funeral, I thought that writing a bit more about her might help me with closure.

During the summer of 2009, I was working at Camp Lutherlyn as a counselor.  One week, I got the opportunity to work with a program called Go-For-It, an adventure camp that goes off site for most of the week to go camping, canoeing, rock climbing etc.  Natalie was the nurse for that week, and as I got ready to head out with the group to our camping area several hours away from camp, I joked with her that I’d try not to get hurt or sick without her…

I kept that end of the promise, I made it through the whole week without needing the care of a nurse.  But on Friday of the week, we came back to camp and were going to do a bike ride affectionately known as the Tour de Creme.  The Tour is a bike ride to an ice cream shop a few miles from camp.  It’s fun because kids get an opportunity to get away and really enjoy a nice ride, and the ice cream is also a pretty cool incentive.  Unfortunately, because of a few steep hills, and because of over-confident riders, it had gotten a bit of a reputation as causing injuries.

As we were heading back to camp, I was pedaling really hard to get a running start at a hill when my chain jumped and locked up my pedals.  Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and so while my pedal stopped moving, my feet and legs did not, jamming my leg down towards the ground with intense force, straight into the bike’s sprocket.  Imagine metal teeth going into the nice meaty part of your calf.  That’s about all I need to say about the injury.

I knew instantly it was going to be bad as I pulled out the first aid kit, so we called the head counselors to tell them I’d need picked up and to have the nurses ready.  When I got back to camp, Natalie and her husband Tim were waiting, and were able to clean the cut better than I had been able to and confirmed my belief that he laceration was extremely deep and large and that I would need stitches.

The cut was gruesome.  And while I was laughing hysterically at my own stupidity, I was probably fairly close to going into shock from blood loss.  Natalie kept me talking while her husband cleaned and dressed the wound, keeping me distracted from looking at the clearly visible fatty and muscle tissue in my leg.  And while normally for an ER run, it would just the be the patient (me) and the head counselor, Natalie insisted on coming along.

While at the hospital, she kept me comfortable in a way that only a mother can, and she ensured that the staff maintained and followed her high standards of care.

On the way back to camp, she found out that my parents were out of the country and so the next morning when the camp session was over and we had the weekend off, she welcomed me into her home so that rather than being alone at camp for a day and a half, unable to move around much or drive, I could have the help and attention that I needed.  That night I got a home-cooked meal and the care of not only a truly passionate nurse, but a wonderful mother.

It is for this reason that I am eternally grateful for Natalie George.  The way she opened her heart, and her home to me in my time of need.

Natalie, you are a friend who will not be forgotten, not by me, or by anyone you’ve touched.  Rest in peace.

Remembering Natalie George

It’s been a weird year of firsts for me.

Last spring, I was best man at my brother’s wedding.  And while it was a small ceremony, consisting of only the closest friends and family, it was the first time I had truly felt an investment in a wedding ceremony.

A few months later, my good friends and coworkers at Camp Luthelyn, Ryan and Cindy Kobert got married, marking two of the first of my friends to get married, but also the first wedding of my friends that I got to attend.

But along with great joy, comes great sorrow.

Tomorrow, a close friend will be laid to rest, and while I’ve seen the passing of many friends and family members, this seems different.  This is the first time that I’ve had to deal with the unexpected loss of a close friend; something that I would not wish on my worst enemies, and something that at 21 I am still too young to have to go through.

“Natalie A. George, 50, of Indiana, PA died Friday, Februrary 18, 2011, at the Indiana Regional Medical Center.”

That’s what the obituary in the local newspaper says.  The fact that it is one of the most popular “stories” on the Indiana Gazette website right now should tell you how much she meant to people, but beyond that simple fact, it doesn’t tell much more than details of the arrangements.  It doesn’t tell how much she meant to me, and how much she meant to everyone she met.

Natalie was the mother of Christa, TJ and Bekah.  All of whom were campers at Lutherlyn, several times during the same week session as me.  Christa and Bekah went on to become staff members with whom I worked during my time at camp and TJ often came up to visit and volunteer.

But Natalie was more than just a mother to a family of kids going to camp.  She was one of Lutherlyn’s best volunteers.  Natalie, a nurse, often accompanied by her husband Tim, who is a paramedic, would give of themselves several weeks out of the summer to come serve as the volunteer nurse/medical staff at Lutherlyn.

Throughout my years as a camper, I was often on medication for my heart, and quite regularly managed to get myself sick or banged up, and so I spent a lot of time at the health hut with the nurses over the years…

And while I can hardly remember more than a few of my counselors or the kids in my cabins, I remember the nurses and the compassion they showed, and I specifically remember Natalie, remember the summers she was and was not my nurse.  I remember the summer I went to model rocketry camp, and for one reason or another ended up in the health hut.  I can’t remember what it was that had me needing medical attention, for all I know, I could’ve just been homesick, but I DO remember sitting there as Natalie told me about her son TJ and how much he had loved rocketry camp, and I remember how the world seemed a little bit brighter after talking to her.

Natalie was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a volunteer and a friend.  She represented the standard of caregiving that any nurse should strive for.  And the one thing that she is and will continue to be, is missed.