A quote, and a challenge.

Hello, readers. It’s mid-summer, and since things are (kind of) quiet around here, I figured I’d give you something to do.  First, I’d like to share a quote I recently came across from Jane Addams’ Twenty Years at Hull House.

I dreamed night after night that every one in the world was dead excepting myself, and that upon me rested the responsibility of making a wagon wheel. The village street remained as usual, the village blacksmith shop was “all there,” even a glowing fire upon the forge and the anvil in its customary place near the door, but no human being was within sight…

I always stood in the same spot in the blacksmith shop, darkly pondering as to how to begin, and never once did I know how, although I fully realized that the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started. Every victim of nightmare is, I imagine, overwhelmed by an excessive sense of responsibility and the consciousness of a fearful handicap in the effort to perform what is required…

Jane Addams, looking dapper and philosophical.

Jane Addams, looking dapper and philosophical.

Something about this particular quote stood out to me (though the entire book, and anything by or about Jane Addams, is definitely worth a read).  I think it resonated particularly clearly because I, and I’m sure anyone who has ever done service work, know that feeling well.  The feeling of sensing just how large the task before you is, and having not a clue how to go about solving it.  It can be overwhelming to look at something like poverty, or hunger, and feel that you could never hope to be more than a ‘drop in the ocean’ against it.

Even a small project can feel daunting when you’re staring it in the face.  Last weekend, a member and I showed up at an East Bluff home armed with a plastic trowel, a rake, and a pair of gloves between the two of us,  having been unable to round up any other members or tools.  The yard we were scheduled to work in was overgrown, with weeds, saplings, rogue flowers, overhanging tree limbs, thorny plants…and me with a Dollar Store trowel. I felt a lot like Addams described above: overwhelmed, under-prepared, but heavy with the knowledge that it was up to me to get this done–alone.

Luckily for us, we weren’t alone.  A community member had answered our call, and she walked over with tools and (more importantly) first-hand experience with gardening.  Then, another member brought more tools and more knowledge, and with some teamwork we were able to fill two bins, four yard waste bags, and several bundles.  We cleared the yard, pruned the bushes, transplanted flowers, cut down invasive plants, and even took down a tree limb or two.  Together, we were able to complete the task that had been so overwhelming to one or two members.  And together, even the big problems like hunger and poverty can be solved.

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in service work to reach out.  Talk to your friends and family, join a group (like AmeriCorps), or start your own service group…or, hey, start a blog! The important thing is not to get overwhelmed by the big problems, and one of the best ways to do that is to take them on little by little, and together.

On that note, I came across a local initiative to recognize and encourage service in Peoria: WWCT’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign.  You can nominate someone who does work in and around Peoria who will be recognized by the radio station and Central Illinois Bank.  It’s always nice to be recognized.  If you see someone doing good things, reach out.  Whether through a nomination or a simple “thank you,” it’s another way we can work together to Get Things Done.

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