Helping Hands

Newsletter Writer, Youth Mentor, Art Creator Assistant, Beautification Committee Worker, and Things to Do Researcher are just some of the titles I’ve held in my spare time.  What started as a “Need to Do” as a teenager, has become a “Love to Do” since then.

Not old enough to apply for a paying job at 15, my mom highly encouraged me to find something to do that summer.  Something to do really meant, acquiring some useful skills. Not knowing where to begin, she suggested I look for a way help others. But where could I be of service? The only work experience I had was flinging newspapers at my neighbors’ doorsteps and occupying the time of little ones when their parents were out for awhile.

So I did a self-assessment. I was an avid reader, had good penmanship, and a knack for organizing things. Personally, I was soft spoken, I paid attention and took direction well. I was also awkward around others I didn’t know, afraid to make mistakes and a perfectionist. With those things in mind, I set out to find the right match!

My love of reading first led me to consider our library, The Berkshire Athenaeum. After some thought, worry crept in.  What if I was asked to shelve books? Knowing myself, I’d end up in a cozy corner fully absorbed in one of them.  Next, I thought about lending a hand at the Pittsfield Animal Shelter. But then it dawned on me that I was getting that experience at home. With a dog, a cat, an occasional turtle, and rabbits – (eventually many rabbits!) I was already an expert at the care and feeding of animals. So, I applied at Berkshire Medical Center.

Truthfully, I may not have been best suited for the hospital setting. The only time I had ever spent there was an hour when I needed stitches after a fall. All I remembered about that experience was the pale green hallways, the high-shine floors, the urgent announcements blaring over the intercom, heavy glassed doors, and that smell.  The smell I can only describe as sickness mixed with bleach. Or maybe it was ammonia? But with my mom’s coaxing and a quick interview with a friendly gray-haired lady, I was handed a red and white striped jumper and asked to start in two days.

From my diary June 25, 1977, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

“I’m now a Candy Striper! I hope I do a good job. I am nervous…mom bought me white tights, a white top and white shoes.. nice outfit!  I need to leave a half hour to walk there…I can’t be late.”

A Model Candy Striper!!

After all my worrying it turned out that I was a pretty good Candy Striper. I became a whiz at filing forms and proficient at taking telephone messages. I could also wheel the steel cart delivering flowers like no other!  Once my first nerve wracking week was over, I looked forward to going to work.  While I was supposed to be helping others, it didn’t feel that way at all.  If anything, the praise, kind words, and smiles I received every time I was there, really helped me. I became more confident in my abilities and myself.

This one opportunity began my live long love of volunteering.  Sometimes the experiences have been heart-warming, other times gut-wrenching.  Sometimes easy-going, other times frustrating.  Some of the jobs I’ve volunteered for were for one day, like building playground equipment at a school for under-privileged kids. Others have gone on for years, like mentoring youths. In some I learned a new skill like pruning a rose bush. With other jobs I learned about services such as Hospice, that I had no knowledge of before. My experiences have been as varied as the people and organizations I’ve volunteered with. And as expected, some jobs have worked out better than others. Regardless, I have always come away learning something.  If not a skill, or something about others, then most certainly something about myself.

Me manning the Big Brothers Big Sisters booth – a terrific organization!

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