Giving back

by Mary Helen Darah


I have heard countless times that our lives have drastically changed after living through a pandemic. I know I am currently struggling to find my new normal. I need to make some positive changes. I now have to remember that I am no longer masked when I am making my “open mouth bass face” while pondering, that wine does not need to be consumed on any day ending in ‘Y’ and that stretch pants at social events are not appropriate. One new habit I will not change that I picked up during the pandemic is losing myself in service.

I have always tried to give back, but in 2020 I picked up the pace. While I have always volunteered I believe my impact on others has been hit or miss. In fact, I believe I have been scratched off the volunteer list for the American Cancer Society. One year I was supposed to help wrap presents at a local mall with funds going to help the organization. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good choice to eat with fellow “wrappers” at an Indian restaurant and consume the recommended beverage, Ceylon arrack, before our shift. After my DISASTROUS attempt at wrapping a suitcase with wheels, I assisted a young woman who was holding two items. As she handed them to me she said, “This is a pen set for my boss and these are highly inappropriate undergarments for my boyfriend. Please do not mix them up.” To this day, I do not know the outcome but I do know that I am no longer a wrapper.

L-R: Mary Helen Darah, Jennifer Archer and Brandi Shepard lose themselves in service.

I tried to redeem myself for ACS by taking part in the Hope Floats event. I was to be the survivor symbolically showing strength and courage on a racing ship. Here’s a helpful little tidbit. When a sailor tells you to be there at 2 pm sharp, they mean on the boat not on shore. I arrived perfectly punctual only to see my hope floating away from shore. Two older, I guess I should be more polite and say well-seasoned, gentleman offered to take me to the sailboat on their small powerboat. It was a great idea in theory. The only problem was that going from one moving boat to the other is not an easy task, especially in a front snapping skirt that unsnapped during my attempts to board. Sadly, the photo ops were not appropriate for young children but I did give it my all.

I wish I could tell you that was my only overexposure while attempting to give back to the community. A word to the wise, stick to the tidy whities if there is a chance you may be around the media and small children. Annually, I would let the kids pick out a hands-on, give back experience to partcipate in. Project Playground was a perfect choice, but my cougar undies were not. Later that night my cougars and I were shown on the 11 o’clock news as a result of not realizing my overalls were unbuttoned as I was bending down to paint the map of the USA on the blacktop. I guess I should be thankful. It was my only shot at being a “cougar.”

I am happy to report that my pandemic volunteering has been incredible and positively impactful. I meet every Friday at Sylvania Area Family Services with an amazing, eclectic crew consisting of a Southview High School educator, a UTMC professional, an energetic, kind male who keeps what he does for a living a mystery, a Sister of St. Francis and a host of Sylvania and parochial school students. We bag pantry items, assemble hygiene baskets, stuff backpacks with school supplies and temporarily forget that there is a crazy world out there as we focus on trying to lift others up through tough times. We have bonded through the service of others. My Gram would always say that as you help others you help yourself.

During a time of feeling useless, lightening the burden of others was and is incredibly empowering. Whether it’s taking care of shelter animals, planting seeds, collecting trash, or helping a neighbor, I have discovered that no act of kindness or effort is too small to bring a glimmer of light into any dark situation.

My volunteer service will continue forth, unlike my wine imbibing, late-night snacking and Netflix binging. I was hoping that a few hours of sorting canned goods would have the extra added benefit of giving me toned arms. Sadly, that’s not the case, but one muscle was strengthened as I lost myself in service–my heart.

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