Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Rick Vaughn | The Respect 90 Foundation
After writing this column for the past four years and having the pleasure of interviewing 50 or so selfless volunteers, real community leaders with truly inspirational stories, I thought it might be time to take a different angle; to share how my own experiences as a volunteer have helped shape my journey.
At the age of 61, I “resigned” from my job after 20 years. The initial shock on my drive home that day and for weeks after was rooted in whether we would be able to keep our house which, thanks primarily to my wife Sue, had become a sanctuary for our family for more than two decades.
We figured it out, as we always have over our forty-two-year marriage. With the help of Joe and Jaye Maddon I was able to transition from a career in the front office of professional sports and many, many 70-hour weeks, to a “more normal” life in in the non-profit world with Respect 90. It has been wonderfully rewarding. The biggest challenge was the void created by decelerating from a 90-miles-an-hour work pace to the normal speed limit. Though to this day I’m still not sure what I did to lose my job, I felt guilt as I came to grips with the fact that I indeed had. I was feeling a little lost.
Accordingly, I didn’t feel like overindulging in golf or fishing as the way to go with this new found time. Volunteering, when I was able to find time, was a small part of my previous life whether it was throwing batting practice to physically challenged kids through George Stone’s Gulf Coast Miracle League or assisting with Scott Daly’s Pet Pal, an animal shelter in St. Pete. Dogs and baseball. Pretty easy stuff.
At the request of my former boss, I had also served on the board of the Homeless Empowerment Program in Clearwater for a number of years. On the day my departure from the sports world was announced, one of the first calls I received was from Barb Green the founder of HEP. “You’re not leaving me,” she told me emphatically. “I’m not letting you leave the board.”
Barb is not someone you want to argue with. She is relentless, yet endearing and full of optimism. Witness what she has done with HEP for the past 35 years.
After thinking about it for a few days I traded my board membership for a volunteer’s apron. My career in the HEP kitchen had begun. I have about as much business being in a kitchen as the 1962 Mets had with being in the National League, but I was soon hooked. I learned my boss, Davey, is not only a great cook and teacher, but someone you want as a friend. When COVID hit a few years later I became aware of the work Tim Marks and my friend Molly James at Tampa-based Metropolitan Ministries were doing to help those whose lives had suddenly been disrupted in a way never before imagined. Inspired by what Joe and Jaye were doing to help with pandemic victims in Joe’s hometown of Hazleton, PA, I got involved with Met Min. The first year it was simply putting food boxes in cars of needy families as they came through our drive thru. Once COVID restrictions loosened we began working more intimately with the clients in helping them not only with food boxes, but clothing, finances, food stamps, IDs, phones and other emerging needs. With the influence from my bosses Mary, Jason, Stacey and Carlos, I was hooked. This was akin to sinking a birdie putt or landing a 30-inch snook (although I still find time to enjoy that particular Tampa Bay luxury).
My lessons learned:
1.) After working with a “team” of players, fellow front office staff, and stakeholders for many years, I was now the lone employee of the Respect 90 Foundation. As rewarding as it is to witness the great community work of Joe and Jaye and to volunteer on behalf of the foundation, I missed that feeling of working side-by-side with a group seeking a common goal. I missed belonging. Volunteering has more than satisfied that need and what’s more, everyone on the team I’m fortunate enough to work with really cares. It really is one team, one goal. How often do you get that feeling these days?
2.) These experiences have helped restore my faith in humanity. I feel blessed to work with volunteers like Glenn, Jean and Kathy at Metropolitan Ministries and my friends Shaun, Lisa and Brian and many others over the years at HEP. They contribute so much, so selflessly.
3.) Working to help people who are faced with daily, real life-changing decisions or those with all of their belongings in rusty car or in a shopping cart or on their back has kept me grounded like never before.
4.) It has been a lesson in empathy. Many of the clients we work with at HEP and Metropolitan Ministries are not happy to see you. They don’t want to be there. Of course, they don’t. They want stability in their lives, assurances they presently don’t have, or a happy home. Some have brought their current set of challenges on themselves, the result of poor decisions, substance abuse or deteriorating family situations. Others, through no fault of their own, are struggling due to the destructive actions of others. How easy, I wonder, would I be to interact with if faced with similar circumstance?
5.) These experiences have opened my eyes to the rampant homelessness in our country, especially in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
Hopefully, you will see the benefit of how volunteering can be as helpful to those who give their time as to those who need it.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation