In the summer of 2013, I wrote in this column about being newly retired after a 36-year career in public education. The first three years have flown by and today I’d like to report on my new passion: volunteering.
To quote my sister-in-law, “You’re so busy I don’t know when you found the time to work!” That’s true because in order to volunteer at over 10 different school, church and community organizations, you either have to be retired or a state legislator.
In volunteering, you not only are exposed to many different ways to help mankind, but you also have the opportunity to serve in leadership roles. For example, there was the meeting when I went to use the facilities and upon returning was told, “You’ve just been elected president.” I can assure you I no longer consume liquids during meetings!
Last year, I was very fortunate to have been elected to the Clarence School Board. It has been a wonderful experience to learn firsthand – from another perspective – how school systems operate. It has also been very rewarding in this role to meet so many students, teachers and staff.
I also have had the chance to become involved with the Erie County Association of School Boards, a professional organization that advocates for public education. However, after telling friends and acquaintances I haven’t seen lately that I now serve on a school board, they often say, “I don’t know whether to congratulate you …” At that point, I finish their sentence by saying, “or offer my condolences.”
Volunteering has been tremendously rewarding, not only because of the satisfaction of giving back and making a difference in people’s lives, but also because of the numerous friends and acquaintances I’ve been fortunate to make.
I’m very grateful to be a part of a group of volunteers who are helping to bring back a local chapter of Honor Flight. This group has chapters or hubs in many cities across the country, as it locates and sends veterans for an unforgettable day of visiting our nation’s capital, including the monuments and Arlington National Cemetery.
To see the enthusiasm of the men and women who served in World War II – the youngest of whom are just shy of 90, the oldest around 100 – is awe-inspiring. Of the 16 million who served, only 855,000 remain. Many of the volunteers, like I do, serve in gratitude of our late fathers.
Another group that I’m proud to be a part of is the Teacher’s Desk. Five years ago, retired autoworker John Mika began substitute teaching in several city schools and witnessed firsthand the lack of supplies that students bring to school.
He now runs a nonprofit corporation with 200 volunteers that distributes nearly $1,000 in new school supplies – free of charge – to every teacher whose school has a 70 percent or greater poverty level. Last year, 180 schools and nearly 5,000 teachers in seven Western New York counties received school supplies valued at $4.5 million.
There are endless opportunities for volunteering in Western New York, and I have found that volunteering at one organization often leads to another opportunity.
It’s true; I wish I hadn’t found the time to work sooner, because I’m having the time of my life.