I always thought I understood the whole thing about volunteering your time. It’s simple, I thought. Work hard in your normal job, then maybe “give back to the community” by volunteering for a church, local youth group and, you know, the usual stuff. That was until I started volunteering for Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad (KVERS). Currently, I am responsible for leading the Communications and Public Relations for the organization.
To me, it was just another form of giving back to the community. During July of 2015, I was selected to join the Board of Directors. Chairman Ken Cassell met with me, we shared our vision of what a community needs, how we should go about doing our part in helping with the safety of the community and what limitations were there. How standard of a volunteering opportunity is that, you might ask?
But, this was more than just a volunteer role. This was a role that I had no idea of what to expect and how, early on, it would have a profound influence on my understanding of what volunteering means and what some people whom I now call heroes ultimately define the term.
As a board member, I get to be part of the successes and shortcomings of this incredible organization. But, today, I am sharing the concept of volunteering.
There are approximately 130 what we call “members.” These are the people that I can safely say represent the true meaning of the word “Volunteer.” These are the firemen, policemen and emergency personnel in their daily lives but during their time off, become part of the Rescue Squad. These are the people that wait for the call. That call might be a cat in a tree. But more than likely, it’s a loved one that is in a serious automobile accident. Or, it might be a child who wandered into a cave. Or, it could be a worker who has become immobile on the side of a building. Or it could be the recovery of a victim of drowning.
KVERS has a slogan that reads “In Your Most Critical Hour…We Are There.” It really couldn’t be more fitting. And these volunteers are busy. For every car wreck in the county, they get the call. For every specialty rescue in the City and County, they get a call. And they are routinely seen doing charity functions, educational programs and helping young children get a taste of what it’s like to be in a rescue squad.
These volunteers are constantly putting their lives aside for the sake of the lives of you and your loved ones. Why do they do it? I do not know. I would guess for some, it’s the thrill of the rescue. Being part of a crew that gets to ride in a fast vehicle with adrenaline pumping and getting to the scene and saving lives might be a good reason. It sounds like a good gig. But, I do not know if that is the purpose.
Or, are they fulfilling some sort of training to get to a new level of certification? Maybe. But, we are talking countless hours. And training like that can come at an easier, less time-consuming cost. I don’t think that is it either.
This week, as I sat in our January board meeting, it sort of hit me. I don’t think any of the volunteers would say this, but I think I figured it out. I think KVERS volunteers think they are the best at what they do. Not for the sake of arrogance, but really more for the sake of responsibility. I think they consider the safety of the community as their responsibility. And I think that they do not want someone else, or the lack of someone else, keeping our community from being as safe as possible. I think that they will sacrifice hours upon hours of time that they would normally be used doing something other than work, only to take care of what they believe is theirs. And that is the community of Knox County.
I’m an eye test kind of person. I usually can get most of my answers by giving people the eye test. And for me, I was gazing around that room, hearing the input from fellow board members and KVERS squad members alike that they are serious about what they do. They take their responsibilities to the community serious. They have ideas that continually change the way we go about keeping our community safe. And they know their business incredibly well.
So, what have I learned about volunteering through this experience? I learned that volunteering is more than just going through the motions. It’s more than simply showing up, doing what’s required and putting that feather in your cap. It’s about throwing everything you have into an effort. It’s about making a difference. It’s taking the time to understand the task at hand and figuring out the best way to get what needs to get done, done. And it means pouring out everything you have, sometimes with your life on the line, for a cause you deeply believe in.
Don’t for a moment think that what I do as a newly-elected board member comes close to what those men and women volunteers of the Rescue Squad do. But, today, I have a newfound appreciation for those who put their lives on the line for people they’ve never met. And for the Rescue Squad members, and members of volunteer fire departments and other volunteers who serve communities around the country while putting their lives on the line, I now know what it truly means to be a volunteer. I hope to one day have someone look up to me in the same way I do those fine people.
You can learn more about KVERS here: www.kvers.org
Bob Colloredo is founder and president of Colloredo & Associates, an integrated marketing and advertising agency located in Knoxville, Tennessee. http://www.colloredomarketing.com