This is a guest blog written by Village volunteer, Jim Gourley.
There are hundreds of reasons that you should not volunteer at Give Kids The Word Village. Trust me, I know, because for several years, I came up with a lot of them, most centering around “I’m too busy,” “I’m too tired,” “Maybe next week,” “I’ve got other things to do,” and my most common catch-all,“I’ll do it later.” Please keep in mind, I never said my reasons were GOOD reasons. In fact, they were more of an excuse than a reason.
A few years ago, I was led to a website. I have no other way to describe it, as I was not looking or searching for Give Kids The World. On that page, I saw what I would come to believe was the most beautiful Princess in the world. I read about the Village and the families and said, “I should volunteer there, someday.” I would look at the YouTube videos and be amazed at the stories of Henri’s remarkable vision, of giving and strength and courage and happiness, and I would say “I should do this, someday.” I would keep going back to the internet, and keep going back to the excuses. But I never forgot the most beautiful Princess in the world…
Four years had passed when I finally said, “the time is now.” My company, Coca-Cola Consolidated, agreed to let me visit the Village as part of my personal development plan with the intention of practicing and improving my servant leadership skills. You see, I fancied myself to be a strong servant leader already, having practiced for many years in industry with companies that share that value and expectation. But, on the same day I arrived and began my service, I came to the abrupt realization that I had seriously overrated myself and had now come face-to-face with the most AMAZING servant leaders I could ever imagine – the parents of our Wish Kids.
My first volunteer shift, or should I say “lesson,” was Café Clayton delivery. I was humbled, awestruck, embarrassed, grateful, ashamed, and a thousand other emotions when I delivered a meal to a mother in Banyan Park. She opened the door and immediately started apologizing for asking us to deliver food. She explained that she and the kids had just returned from a full day at Walt Disney World, and “the boys are still soooo excited, soooo happy, still running around in this beautiful room and I’m just so tired… I just don’t think I could make it to the Café. I am so sorry…” I explained that no apologies were needed because nobody deserved it more than her, and she started crying the tears of joy I sometimes see at the Village. Right then and there, I saw love, I saw happiness, and I saw what a REAL servant leader is.
The greatest servant leader in the world is a parent that cares for a special child. A parent that has unconditional love and gives and gives and gives to the point where “taking,” even something as simple as a hot meal placed in their hands or a shuttle ride that welcomes them to their new “home,” seems foreign to them. A parent that unselfishly serves others for 20+ hours a day, then sees the simple act of being able to design their own banana split as something they are hesitant to ask for. A parent that spends five hours getting that special child out of bed and into his chair and ready to ride to Towne Hall for lunch, their first real meal of the day. A parent that is so humble, so loving and so giving they then say “I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve all this.” And all I can do is smile and ask “Who deserves it more? Nobody, and I am so glad to spend a little time with you today.” And I was. And the memories of those families continue to touch and teach me every day.
That week was so life-changing for me that I immediately signed up for a week’s vacation in order to return for Christmas week. My wife, Carol, came with me this time, because she could tell how I had been changed by this special place. She saw firsthand that there is no sadness, just happy families that appreciate how Give Kids The World makes their children happy – and we all know that Happiness Inspires Hope. It put our lives, and our problems, in perspective. It made us realize how self-centered we had become. It caused some beneficial soul-searching. It made us better people and gave us a renewed sense of purpose.
A few months later, I was diagnosed with grade 4 cancer. But I believe that I was “sent” to Give Kids The World prior to my mishap to give me the perspective I needed, just like I was “led” to the website. If I felt a little pain, I simply thought of the truly amazing kids I had met and what they lived with on a daily basis. And my pain was diminished. I never once asked “why me” or worried about “what if,”and that would not have been the case if this had occurred before my Give Kids The World service. You see, those families showed me how putting others before self and having strength against the odds is possible even in the direst circumstances. I realized just how minor my situation was in comparison, and it kept my compass centered. It allowed me to focus on what tomorrow may bring versus what a single “today” might have in store. Give Kids The World gave me purpose along with a new measure of “success.” As Henri said, “God is right here in this Village.”
In the past two years, I have volunteered about 400 hours. My biggest regret is the four years that I made excuses and failed to begin serving at Give Kids The World. I am retiring this month and will come down for three months or so throughout the year to continue this journey. I love every minute of serving the most deserving, giving people I have ever met – the inspiring kids and families that visit the Village. They give me SO much more than I can give in return.
And I owe it all to the most beautiful Princess I have ever seen.