The following is an article in the Pay It Forward column published in the Homer News. This column is sponsored by the Homer Foundation, a community foundation promoting local philanthropy since 1991. To learn more please visit us @ www.homerfoundation.org and like us on Facebook.
When I moved to Homer as a young adult, my new neighbor, Walter Johnson, asked me a memorable and unusual question immediately after introducing himself.
“Which volunteer organizations in town are you working with?”
The answer was none since my high school had required precisely 20 “volunteer” hours to graduate. Work was for money. Money could be converted to donation, preferably tax deductible.
That winter I met Anonymous at the Homer Rope Tow on Ohlson Mountain. I was relaxing between runs and he was shoveling snow into the towpath to cover the ice and make unloading safer. We chatted, and he mentioned that there was going to be a ropetow meeting with pizza next week, and that the pizza meeting was a chance to meet some other ropetow users and that we’d eat pizza. I agreed to think about the pizza, and it turned out that on Tuesday evening I was in the mood for some right about the time of the meeting.
As I and a few others enjoyed the slices, the situation was laid bare: most of the board of directors of the Ski Hill had dropped out, as their kids had grown out of it or they had watched ridership dwindle. He needed a new board for the ropetow to continue to exist and I was holding his bait in my greasy hand.
“I just need a name to put on the paper that I file with the state. And come to some meetings if you can,” he said. Not realizing that we would eventually be prying stumps out of the frozen soil in November rain, I agreed.
Volunteering with Anonymous and the other ropetow recruits was a revelation regarding what work meant. The effort wasn’t convertible to money or proportionally to my own fun. There certainly wasn’t always perceptible gratitude from the kids I had to remind about the rules. There were occasionally dead ends, and significant effort for small or no gains in the quality of the hill.
But there was the ability to watch and learn how Anonymous would scheme and plan, propose, cajole, and enlist others in his vision. It was clear that this goal was worth working harder than one would for money, and small ideas for improvements started to creep into my mind in the wee hours. I watched him bring other people to the hill and gesture to a future that they could help realize.
Pretty soon I was happily shoveling snow onto an icy towpath. Kids and adults came zinging by, probably not thinking about safety or yearly insurance costs. Perfect. Anonymous had brought me to the other side of wall in which giving felt better than getting.
A few years ago, Lydia Kleine and I were at the Homer Skatepark and were probably about the thousandth and thousand-and-first riders to complain about the park. Whoops…still paying for that pizza! I knew exactly what Anonymous would do. We started Friends of the Homer Skatepark and managed to bring in two new halfpipes, as well as making some nice upgrades to the street skating area. Along the way we got to meet other people, anonymous and named, who were as eager to support our vision as we were to complete it.
Thanks Anonymous! You taught me a lot. And thanks to the Rotary volunteers who shepherd us through the Health Fair, those who dig hiking trails into rocky hillsides, serve on school committees, or have their shoulder to the wheel in so many ways that make Homer better. I hope we can all pass it along.
George Overpeck is a local artist, philanthropist, and enthusiastic volunteer (and volunteer recruiter!)