Exactly a week before Thanksgiving, about half of the Schedule Planning Department assembled on a fine November morning to volunteer at a house being built by Habitat for Humanity. The reason only half of our group was there because the other half of Schedule Planning had been at the same house a week earlier for similar work; the earlier group framed and raised the house, while my group sided, caulked, and painted. I have to admit....the framers were mostly my younger and fitter colleagues....the painters, for the most part (and DEFINTELY including me!), were older, less agile, and.....wiser. 🙂 But both groups got the same things out of the volunteer event--we laughed, we shared, we functioned as a surprisingly well-skilled team, and we got to know others who also chose to serve their communities.
It's true that Southwest's primary corporate charity is the Ronald McDonald House, and heaven knows how many wonderful, heartstring-tugging dinners I've helped cook there. But we also know that need in our country isn't limited to the guests at Ronald McDonald Houses. Volunteerism is needed in every community we serve--even in those we don't. That's why many of our Employees get involved in communty volunteer efforts of every kind. Food banks, clean-up efforts, Salvation Army, mentoring, Meals-On-Wheels--Southwest Employees are involved. In fact, having a "Servant's Heart" is one of the three tenets of "Living The Southwest Way" (the other two are having a "Warrior Spirit" and having a "Fun-LUVing Attitude"). And my 35,000 Southwest Family members and I have perfected this to a "T"!
Everyone gets something different out of volunteering. Of course, by volunteering as a group for Habitat, we had an excellent team building excercise. After seeing your Vice President smash the heck out of his thumb for the third or fourth time and STILL not spew out obscenities that would make Joan Rivers blush...I've gained even more respect for the man. Watching a colleague get a fully-loaded brush-full of paint right in the face is both bonding and hysterically funny. And to have a coworker look at you and in complete innocence say, "Hey Bill, can I have your caulk?" and not collapse in fits of gutter-minded laughter is most definitely a character-building moment.
But a wonderful bonus to the experience of volunteering is getting to know the other people in the community who are volunteering shoulder-to-shoulder with you, and learning their "back stories." At our Habitat shift we met, of course, the employees of Habitat who supervise the volunteers and learned why they do what they do. They're a lot like Southwest Employees: they passionately view what they do not as a job, but as a mission. We worked with employees of Coca-Cola, who were endlessly curious about the Southwest Culture (and who were excellent trim painters!). We worked with members of Builders Of Hope, a wonderful organization dedicated to rebuilding and stimulating formerly-blighted West Dallas (these guys were AWESOME teachers). And then we worked with Ellette and Adam.
Ellette and Adam showed up at the Habitat house with no fanfare and got right to work. And they worked hard! While we were talking (and painting, and painting, and painting), Ellette mentioned that she and Adam had just gotten married. Aww, how sweet, we all thought. When? "This past Sunday," she replied. "This is how we're spending our honeymoon week."
Say what???? She explained that they wanted to spend the week celebrating the union of their lives by giving back to their community, and by giving back to everyone who had given to them. During their "honeymoon" week they'd spent time packaging bags at food banks, delivering turkey dinners to the disadvantaged, cooking meals in a kitchen to feed the homeless, and now here they were at Habitat. They were still having their honeymoon at night--staying in hotels, eating out, seeing theatre--but during the day, they were investing sweat equity in their community. "We're so excited to be here,"she told me. "We can't believe they got us into a Habitat volunteer opportunity so quickly!"
HOW SELFLESS IS THAT? I don't think I've heard of a better, more meaningful way to spend a honeymoon. Way more memorable than a week in Cancun. Far more relationship-building than a week on a cruise ship. Ellette and Adam have a story that is both unique and inspiring. And how better to give thanks for their marriage than to give of their recently-joined hearts to their communities through service! Getting to know them and witnessing their committment to their fellow man will stay with me far, far longer than the soreness in my back from a day of painting and caulking.
As we each head into our Thanksgiving celebrations, I hope you all take a moment to reflect and give thanks for everything you have. I hope you'll make every effort to communicate to friends and family how thankful you are to have them in your lives, whether that's in person or long-distance. And...I hope you'll invest some of your time volunteering in your community as a demonstration of your thankfulness. There is nothing that will give you a greater return.
Thanks for the lesson in humilty, Adam and Ellette. Breathe peace, everyone....and breathe thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!