Brian Keaney

Tag: volunteering

Out of the mouths of kiddos

I do all the warm up drills with the kids except skipping. I refuse to skip.

This morning on the bus a little girl I’ve seen many times before got on, per usual, with her Justin Beiber backpack strapped on to her shoulders.  Normally this wouldn’t merit a second look, but her neon orange socks were matched by a t-shirt of the same color.  Even then, the only reason I cared was that I saw that shirt being distributed the night before but somehow never noticed her at the distribution site.

After the little snow New England saw this winter finally melted away, it seemed like my volunteering days with YES would be put on hold until next ski season.  They have a full lineup of summer activities, but all of them are during weekdays.  Or so I thought.  Turns out they have a track and field team that meets twice a week in the evening.  Even though I’ve never run track, I missed working with the kids and signed up.

The kids range in age from four to 14, and I think there are even a few three-year-olds thrown in there.  Had you asked me at the beginning of the season  which group I did not want, I would have told you the really little ones.  They are fun in short doses, but I thought I would get more out of it working with the older kids.  Turns out I was wrong, and that the four- and five-year-olds keep me both constantly smiling and forever trying to make sense of the senseless knock knock jokes they find so hilarious.  (I wasn’t wrong about the short doses thing, though.  By the time practice is over they are about ready to be done and I am about done trying to organize chaos.)

After practice last night they started handing out t-shirts to some of the kids, and it was one such shirt that I saw on the bus this morning.  Turns out that if your child attends enough of this absolutely free program where they get to make new friends, exercise, and learn the fundamentals of a sport that could bring them eternal high school glory (and who knows, maybe even a trip to the Olympics), they get a free t-shirt. How is that for an enticement to get them to make 10 practices or meets where they have everything to gain and nothing to lose?

They also had some embroidered polo shirts for the coaches.  It was a very nice gesture, and one that I should have been more appreciative of, but earlier events that evening made it all but impossible.  Several weeks ago the other coach who works regularly with the little ones told me that the kids “adored me.”  I didn’t believe her, but in fairness that didn’t stop me from bragging to my sisters that I was an object of adoration.  They, not unexpectedly, had a reaction that could be described as something short of adoring.

Last night I began to think that my fellow coach may have been on to something.  While keeping some sort of order as the kids jumped over hurdles that could be hidden by tall grass, one of the four-year-olds came up behind me and hugged my leg.  Initially taken a little aback, I looked down and smiled at her.  It was then that she looked those big blue eyes up at me and said, “You’re doing a great job, kiddo.”

Where she came up with a line like that I have no idea, but it sure meant a whole lot more to me than any polo shirt ever will.


Bourgeoisie oblige

A couple weeks ago I attended the Dedham Food Pantry’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Night.  I felt a little awkward being there and would not have walked in the door had I not been expressly invited.  My Food Pantry volunteering is limited to co-hosting a telethon for the cause once a year, while most of the others at the party spend far more of their time, treasure, and talent on this worthy enterprise.

A woman I know socially told me the reason she volunteered at the Pantry on the regular was that it makes her “feel so good inside.”  While I’m sure she didn’t mean to, she instigated a period of self reflection for me.  I might not give a lot of hours to the Food Pantry, but I would like to think that I put my fair share of time into serving my community, broadly defined.

I knew then and now that I don’t do it because it makes me feel good, but I had to give some serious thought about why I am out four or five or six nights a week at various events and meetings and causes.  The best answer I could come up with is that it is because I can, and since I can I should.

Some of the time I spend, quite honestly, is selfish.  The organization I spend the most time volunteering for gives me something back that is, to me, far more valuable than any warm and fuzzy.  I get to relive a bit of my youth, or at least taste it again for a couple hours.  A few times a month I find myself on one of several college campuses where my position – and, truth be told, my personality today – makes me cooler than I ever was when I was a student.  I’m proud of the work I do there, but it would be dishonest to say I don’t get anything back from it.

The others, however, are not for fame or glory, or for a chance to drink from the fountain of youth that vanishes like a mirage every time I leave campus.  I do it because it is a categorical imperative for me.  My primary moral imperative, perhaps.  For example, because I believe that every kid deserves a Christmas, I will spend more than I can comfortably afford to help make it a reality.  Though I own a home (It may be said that I’m the the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege) I have not yet moved into, I will still give up a Saturday morning to work on someone else’s who needs the help more than I do.


Though I have not subjects, servants, children, nor wife, I agree with Mr. Banks that noblesse oblige.  I may not be a poor widow either, but it if it is expeted of her then it must be expected of me as well.  Bourgeoisie oblige.