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A life that is 'great full'

Lori Schloeder Gress

I would much rather be on the side of giving than receiving and as such, like most people, I get far more satisfaction in helping others than receiving help from others.

I enjoy volunteering — even to the point that I would much rather be a volunteer than a paid employee. However, necessity makes the life of a full time volunteer impossible for today anyway! I have always volunteered; as a young teenager, I can remember volunteering to babysit — partially because I loved spending time with kids and I knew it was helpful to the family; and in high school there were church activities — choir, Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, even a kids choir director; and in school — there were so many activities that it is hard to remember them all. Volunteering and helping others was a way of life growing up in the small community of Wadena, where everyone had the opportunity to do good things for others.

Even as I transitioned to Concordia and into the Fargo-Moorhead area, volunteering was still a high priority. I took so much more away from anything than I gave —simply by helping others at college, church and in our neighborhood. Volunteering is a way of life. I live by the theory that it is very easy to donate money, but it is not as easy to match that money with a donation of your time, energy and the biggest piece-emotion.

When our boys were younger, they too learned the importance of volunteer work through Boys Scouts, church activities, WDC programs, friends, family and neighbors. We helped each other without question when someone was in need. Today I watch as Adam and Tyler grown into adulthood and go about their lives; I see that my influence has carried through in their lives as well. Recently I was helping Adam (and his wife, Andrea) around their lawn when a neighbor told me how much he appreciates Adam helping him with tree removal and snow removal. Andrea's (Adam's bride) grandparents, who happen to live across the road, talk of how both Adam and Andrea are so helpful for them as well — always providing a helping hand and even accompanying as a companion for gardening and ice fishing.

Although Tyler does not have much time on his hands with Med School studies, has chosen a career that will help others in the future, an Internal Medicine Physician. The volunteering he has done has been meaningful and purposeful to his career — travelling to Micronesia to help, study and learn more about the color blindness in the country, and volunteering at the Hope Clinic in Duluth for impoverished individuals. He has found a passion for those of different ethnicity — how, I don't know, because Wadena is 98 percent white; but, I believe he has inherited the Lori Gress help everyone genes. And, if needed for family, Tyler is there to help as well. When Adam and Andrea's house burned down three years ago, Tyler was one of the first there with clothes in hand to make sure Adam had what he needed in those first few hours after everything was lost. We still joke that Tyler lost a lot in the fire as well — every once in awhile, Adam will be wearing one of Tyler's Concordia sweatshirts and Tyler will say "that's where that sweatshirt went!"

Over the past few years, I have come to recognize the importance of volunteering to help others. It isn't for the person that is on the receiving end of the assistance (although I am sure to them it is important!), but it is most important for me. The satisfaction I receive from helping others is more than I can ever get from a paycheck. Most times the assistance is recognized and appreciated; however, there are times when the effort is not recognized because of the nature of the individual in need or the type of organization - and that is ok too. I get more personal pride in knowing that I did as good of a job in volunteering as I would do if I was doing it for myself.

When I volunteer for something I truly believe that I can make a difference in - such as community rebuilding, church activities, offering assistance to those with less and even helping good friends overcome life's issues-I have become passionate about helping see the project/individuals through the process. There is meaning for me personally to finding grants for children from low income families, there is meaning in helping an individual faced with depression and mental health issues, there is meaning in helping those who have been emotionally and/or physically abused, and there is meaning to finding food for those who haven't eaten in days. It goes beyond the time and energy to do these things; there is a very personal connection for me as well. These purposeful and even sometimes random acts of kindness, both big and small, are not something I walk away from without my heart being touched in one way or another. Sometimes it is hard to walk away when a project is not completed or when an individual cannot be healed — I will always long for others to have a better life. Other times I marvel at the work committed volunteers can do when they work together — it can be spectacular.

So, as we enter this time of Thanksgiving, yes, I am very thankful for what I have received in life; however, I am grateful for what I can give back rather than what I can receive.

My life is great full, great fuller, great fullest when I am helping others.