Brian Voerding: Learning to make a difference

2013-09-15T00:00:00Z Brian Voerding: Learning to make a differenceBy BRIAN VOERDING Winona Daily News
September 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I was walking toward a volunteer and activism event on the Winona State University campus Tuesday evening when a fresh-faced college kid walking in the opposite direction bounded toward me.

“What’s going on over there?” he asked, gesturing to the live music, grilled food, and rows of tables filled by area nonprofits.

I told him it was a place to learn about Winona-area organizations, find opportunities to volunteer.

He thought about that for a second. “You mean like going to campus events, like homecoming?”

I studied his face for a moment for signs of irony. There were none.

I told him it wasn’t exactly like that, that volunteering meant serving the community.

He thought about that, too, then said, again in absolute earnest: “So it’s like picking up litter and things like that.”

Not exactly, I told him, while idly scanning my environment to see if someone was filming our exchange. Picking up litter is great, sure. But volunteering, I told him, is finding good organizations that serve people in need in the community, then doing what you can to help keep them going. Organizing fundraisers. Sorting clothes. Helping clients.

The kid scrunched his brow, then smiled with a sense of some small revelation. “That makes sense,” he said, then continued on his way.

It was a good reminder for anybody who teaches: We often forget just how much kids--and adults--don’t know.

Those who volunteer sometimes forget to teach. Even if for good reason--they’re too busy doing.

After the event I attended a speech by Paul Loeb, an activist and writer. Nothing he said particularly moved me, maybe because I had heard it all before, even if I’m not nearly valiant enough to have practiced any of it.

Then I realized: He wasn’t speaking to me.

He was teaching.

He saw a room full of fresh-faced college kids sitting before him, many of whom likely also thought volunteering meant going to homecoming events, but were too shy to ask whether they were right.

He saw that crowd and realized his purpose for the night was to teach them just exactly what volunteering and activism could be.

He didn’t get them all. Some were clearly there on a class assignment, sat in the balcony, and snuck out early. But he knew he wouldn’t and said as much. The persistence required to succeed in any cause, he said, includes knowing the importance of turning even a single mind.

He turned plenty that night.

If in part because of a particularly wise observation: Those who don’t volunteer sometimes don’t know that they can.

He shot for the moon with his first example, describing a young and shy Martin Luther King reluctant to get involved after Rosa Parks was arrested. Then he gave a more relatable example, of a college student who took over a flailing sustainability organization on campus and turned it into such a success that after she graduated, in a time of crushing budget cuts, the president hired her into a permanent position.

The message being that you do not need to be perfect, you do not need to be confident, you do not need to be everything. That everyone has a role to play--even those afraid of the sound of their own voice. That if you find your people, your cause, as he put it, you may be surprised at how quickly you grow to at least tolerate the sound of your own voice.

So, those who volunteer need to remember to teach whenever they can. Those who don’t volunteer need to remember they can.

I left with only one lingering question: How do you reach the earnest kid?

The one who doesn’t have a clue, whose feet, by incidental learned behavior and routine, propel him away from anywhere he might learn?

Good for him that he stopped and asked. Though I’m not convinced he picked the right guy.

Maybe that’s the answer, the missing third piece of advice.

Those who don’t always do need to remember they can at least teach.

I didn’t stand in front of a crowd Tuesday night with a lifetime of experience and advice to impart. I had no crowd, no advice.

But the kid walked up to me, so I stopped, listened, and did what I could, what little it was.

For all I know the kid wandered off into the night without changing his behavior a bit.

Then again, even if he picked up a piece of litter on his way, it’s a start.

Brian Voerding is the editor of the Daily News.

Copyright 2015 Winona Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Hive
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    Hive - September 18, 2013 2:38 pm
    I would add that the social part might be good. It offsets the corporate/government etc snowball.
  2. Hive
    Report Abuse
    Hive - September 18, 2013 2:36 pm
    Easy, I am with ya...the question you raise, why the kids are not out in streets, has been a vexing one for me for some time. Might be because they have no stake in it, as lots of the kids in those past years were vets. Kids really do not seem to care much about what I/we have always considered the important stuff.

    By the way, "you" were there, then you also stopped the war...don't see yourself short...one of my teachers was a Milw 9,

    Interesting isn't it. I will have to tell you more about the vet who lucked out.
  3. easy
    Report Abuse
    easy - September 18, 2013 9:47 am
    Hive, I was right there with those sixties kids, going right along with them, and my library still contains all the 'right' books by, oh, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Jerry Rubin, etc (never did follow Abbie Hoffman's advice to 'Steal This Book!'). And long live Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll!

    But we parted ways later as we grew older. As I learned more about life, I entered the world of reality, and they entered the world of Acadamia, and turned that world into the socialist-minded place it is today.

    I'm not saying they were wrong -- they DID stop the war. Bit I am saying that they held ideas that were largely untried in this country to that point--and we have seen more and more of those ideas come along lately, and seen them fail.

    Side thought -- regarding stopping the war. Where are the protesters now? Are today's wars too small -- Viet Nm was large enough to merit their attention? Or was it the draft -- the kids then had a personal stake.
  4. Hive
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    Hive - September 17, 2013 11:27 am
    Easy and Les, I certainly agree, but there are two sides to the coin...one side, while ten years prior those kids were ten and eight, the General was also younger, as Easy notes well, and side two or supplement to the thought, like those GP has learned something and likely has a change of mind and heart, whether or not he expresses it.

    Remembering too the '70s kids who were young in 1962 when we were stepping in it in Vietnam and later those same ignorant kids got into the streets helped get us out of that terrible Vietnam mistake...

    Sometimes, too often, careers come before honest temerity.

    That third missing "piece of advice" might be also the third ingredient, asking the question and the doing...if what we are is what we do...

    Not arguing, just looking a bit further, as Brian did.

    In fact, I plan to come back to this very excellent item by Brian...he gets it and his question raised more questions, for me, anyway. Good one...

    +1

  5. Leslie Hittner
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    Leslie Hittner - September 15, 2013 2:31 pm
    College clubs like the Kiwanis sponsored club - Circle K - are great places to learn about these concepts. Circle K members do public and community service at local assisted living facilities, within their university community, at local schools and preschools, etc. They are guided in these activities by a strong international organization and by their local sponsoring Kiwanis Club.

    It remains to be seen this year, but the initial meeting of the WSU Circle K club were attended by 30-25 college students - all interested in public and community service. That's just one organization!

    All is not lost - yet.
  6. easy
    Report Abuse
    easy - September 15, 2013 11:21 am
    Part Three...

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/11/david-petraeus-protesters_n_3909976.html

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/12/petraeus-heckled-by-throng-critics-after-teaching-seminar-at-new-york/

  7. easy
    Report Abuse
    easy - September 15, 2013 11:18 am
    Part Two...

    ...and I'm sure that he, like every soldier, would have charged into hell if so directed.

    What were those kids doing then? Getting rides to their soccer games from Mom?

    Science has taught us lately, including a major piece in National Geographic, that their brains aren't even fully developed yet, that will take a few years. A sure thing is that they have not simply had enough time in their lives to acquire the wisdom that would come from experience.

    The fact that they feel entitled to act like this says much about the disintegration of society today. And about the "brain-washing" that is done on modern campuses.

    On the one hand, it makes me feel guilty that we are using them for cannon fodder when they are not yet completely matured. On the other, it is well to keep these things in mind when considering their opinions.

    Man, this thousand character thing is a pain.

    Need Part Three...


  8. easy
    Report Abuse
    easy - September 15, 2013 11:03 am
    Good piece, Brian, interesting and thought-provoking point about the college boy. Yes, there is a lot they don't know, and we should temper our opinion of them with that understanding. I am reminded of the video we have seen lately of ex-General Petraeus walking on the City University of New York, where he is teaching, surrounded by a group of 20 year olds shouting to him over and over that he is a war criminal, and calling him by his first name to emphasize their disrespect.

    Ten years ago, when we entered Iraq, they were ten years old. What did they know then, and what have they learned of the world since then? And what would cause them to behave in such a disrespectful manner? That answer, of course, is they have been inflamed by the far left firebrands that colleges are infected with today.

    Ten years ago, Petraeus was well into his successful career, doing his best to defend his country, as he was directed by his civilian supervisors,

    To Part Two...
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