Archive for Thursday, February 9, 2006

Giving comes back around

February 9, 2006

Somewhere I read that you must read in order to write. I think this is true.

Recently, I've noticed that my eyes are drawn more and more to the obituary column in the local and area newspapers, which is something I kidded my mom about as she got older.

She used to say when she lived in Emporia, "In the morning I turn on the radio for the report from Roberts & Blue (a local funeral home in Emporia) and if I'm not on it, I make the coffee."

I realize I am showing my age as well, but this simple act of picking up the papers each day helps me to at least scan what's happening here and in the area.

As a result I've stumbled over several "good news" stories lately. The first came to my attention while watching "Sunflower Journeys" on public television several months ago. The energetic, 80-year-old woman, Elvera Voth, featured in the television segment was also featured in a recent article in the Lawrence Journal-World as the organizer and leader of an all-male musical choir she started 10 years ago as the "East Hills Singers." Composed of singers from Lawrence and Topeka as well as an unlikely group from the minimum-security unit of Lansing Prison called "East Hills," Elvera directs the choir, which performs at various area churches.

Watching the group on television and reading the article, I was impressed with this lady's energy and commanding presence, especially at an age when most people feel they can no longer contribute to society. Elvera is impatient with those who say "don't do anything" and responded to the interviewer by saying, "They need to go help someone."

And this she has certainly done by bringing great music from the classical to the popular to enjoyment of others and also inspiring new life, meaning and value into the lives of those inmates, many of whom thought because they were in prison had nothing to offer.

Inmate's remarks such as: "It's done more for my self confidence, self esteem and self worth than anything I have done before, short of getting off drugs and finding recovery from addiction," and "Do you have any idea what it feels like to get a standing ovation when you've been told all your life you are absolutely nothing?" reveal a great sense of satisfaction being part of such an undertaking.

Not one to look for praise, she doesn't sentimentalize her role in all of this. In fact, she says, "I don't want to sound like a bleeding heart, because I'm not. I'm tough on these guys."

Tough or not, she has created an entirely unique experience that gives a sense of worth to many who did not have one to begin with, as well as entertaining and giving the gift of beautiful music to all of those who attend their concerts.

Now, to all of you retirees, don't you feel a little challenged and energized by such a person who continues to give?

From "good news" to "good turn" I would like to mention a young gentlemen who was very helpful a month or so ago while I was looking for a particular business at a Lawrence industrial park. After driving around for a while, I finally stopped and asked for help from this young man who was also just visiting the park. His name was Todd and he worked for an engineering consulting firm in Lawrence. He was kind enough to stop what he was doing and search his own phone book trying to find the name and phone number of the business I was trying to locate.

Going out of his way for me on his own time, I felt he deserved to be mentioned as someone who went the extra mile.

A few days later in the middle of a snowstorm, I was traveling into Lawrence on a Sunday morning on my way to church and had the opportunity to return a favor.

I watched as an oncoming car headed directly toward me before spinning out of control on the snow-slick road and plowing into a field.

Seeing that the driver was hopelessly stuck, I stopped and offered to call for help. A lady emerged who had no phone and was on her way to work at the industrial park. With no one on the road and not a single car passing by in the time we spent waiting for a tow truck and calling her relatives, we realized she would have been stranded for some time without help.

The reason I mention this is that just as I appreciated the kindness of a stranger who helped me, I was given the opportunity shortly after to return the favor to another person. It made me consider the promptings we feel to offer help are usually correct, and I would suggest that everyone pass it on -- the favor of just a little time spent to respond to another. Even though I missed mass that Sunday morning, I felt I had been to church.

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