A Story About A Volunteer

It was cold and windy that morning and I decided to put on my winter jacket. I knew that I was going to spend some time outside walking around the client’s house and pointing out the needed repairs, so I wanted to be warm. When I got to the client’s house and pulled in the driveway, I wondered how many times we would need to send volunteer team out to the house to make it reasonably presentable. After all, the referral had been initiated by law enforcement because of the condition of her house. As I waited for the team leader, I saw the 3-4 window panes in the front that still needed to be replaced and I was certain the client was thankful a volunteer had already replaced 3-4 panes of glass. I wondered how cold it was inside due to the broken window panes.

When the team leader was more than a few minutes late, I gave him a call. He responded immediately and sounded frustrated. His GPS had led him to the correct location, but he could find houses numbers above and below the client’s address. When I said the house was on the corner, his response was very telling. He said, “I thought the house on the corner was abandoned.” That comment had entered my mind on my first visit to the client as well.

When the volunteer arrived a few minutes later, he was dressed for his professional job and was wearing only his suit coat. We hustled over to ring the doorbell so he could get warm, but I warned him to be careful about the broken hand rail. I also pointed out the condition of the door and door frame. I was hoping to prepare him for meeting the client and to manage his expectations for what to expect. I had told him of the client’s physical problems and had cautioned him that she did not move quickly or easily. I did not want him to be discouraged if she did not feel well and she was struggling to move about.

When she opened the door, she appeared to be feeling well and cordially invited us inside. As we sat down to talk, it was hard for the volunteer not to notice the condition of the walls and ceilings in need of minor repair and a coat of paint. As we started to talk, she quickly apologized about the cold and said that her heat pump had been stolen. Someone just pulled their truck into her backyard, disconnected the wires and piping, and simply lifted the unit off the ground and drove off. She did not know what she was going to do.

As we were talking, we could see our breath as we sat in the living room. The volunteer started rubbing his hands in the cold and occasionally he would look up to see the curtains blow behind the broken window when the wind would blow. Within a few minutes, he started to shiver. To help him warm up (and the get him back in his car), I encouraged a walk around the house and then we could talk about future activities.

Within a few minutes we had finished our inspection of the house and had discussed what activities his team could accomplish. We said our “good-byes” to the client and sat in my car to discuss future plans. As the heat was running warming the car, he asked, “How can anyone live like that?”

I reminded him that the Baby Boomer generation was aging and so many of them had bought nice houses, just as she had 40 years ago. Over time, many people start to live on fixed incomes and it becomes difficult to maintain their house. I also told him that soon there would be more Baby Boomers just like her in Gwinnett than young children and she was just one of many on our list of potential clients. All he did was to shake his head.

He then made the promise that his volunteer group would address the repair tasks we had discussed and he personally would find someone to replace her heat pump. He said his group might not be able to help everyone, but this was someone they could. He also said that he would spread the word about the need in Gwinnett and about what A Brush With Kindness was trying to accomplish.

As is true with most volunteers, all it takes is one client and one visit and then the need for A Brush With Kindness becomes so evident, but this is the story of one volunteer.