Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Dad Was Way Before United We Serve

A friend from high school said he never drives past a volunteer community car wash without thinking about my dad. My dad owned a gas station and he was always letting scouts and schools have car washes. My friend marveled at all the gallons of water he donated.

I’d never thought about it. In fact, I’d forgotten all about the car washes.

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a friend and recalled the name of my dad’s gas station -- Community Service. I’d never thought about that either. You take everything for granted from childhood. I’ve never taken a step back to think about a person naming their gas station Community Service.

A large group of men hung out there. It was truly the hub of our township. The hours were filled with lots of joking and discussion. I couldn’t help but think about the men at the gas station when watching Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood’s character takes the boy into the barbershop to teach him how to talk like a man, which involves foul language and insults. Although they cleaned up their act for me, I know this occurred. My grandmother always disapproved, especially when our minister joined them.

On June 22, 209 First Lady Michelle Obama, kicked off the United We Serve campaign at Bret Harte Elementary in San Francisco, California. She explained what United We Serve is all about:

“It's a nationwide effort to call Americans to make service a daily part of
their lives -- like all of you here; it's not something that you do in your
spare time.”

Surprisingly, the first thing I thought about was my dad and his gas station. He was a successful businessman who held the highest ranking volunteer position in Boy Scouts. He always sponsored a work study program at our local high school. He took young men, gave them a job, and taught them work skills. My dad was great at what he did. The teachers always sent him the toughest cases. He struggled with one boy who wouldn’t make eye contact or speak. Others needed to learn how to show up on time and be dependable. Simple skills like making change and being courteous to customers were unknown to these boys. For years, day in and day out, he spent his time at work teaching them how to make a living. Although it wasn’t always easy, they became functioning members of the workforce. Many came back to visit and it must have been so satisfying to know the important part he played in making each of them succeed and talk like a man.

My dad had not graduated from high school. He never went to any formal leadership training.

With New Jersey’s laws requiring gas to be pumped, he needed workers. He combined this business need with a community need. He offered his business to help community groups on a regular basis. He used what he had to help others regularly. Nothing fancy.

He obviously influenced me because I’m a Boy Scout leader and volunteer in my community to make people’s lives better too.

As Mrs. Obama said:

“… community and national service is something that's near and dear to my heart.
It's not something that we just started to do in the White House. It's been sort
of the air that we breathe in the Obama household in so many ways…”
How does it become the “air that we breathe”, a daily habit? Community service spreads by example from father to daughter. It spreads by invitation from neighbor to neighbor. The only necessary ingredient is a person who cares. It’s a lifestyle of growing and nurturing those around you while seeking or creating opportunities to help every day.

We simply need a call to service, a daily mindset. Now we have it from Mrs. Obama.


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