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Column

I got my bell rung

If George Bailey’s daughter was right when she said every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings then publisher Dan Goetz and I winged an entire battalion last Tuesday night. Standing in the vestibule of Newton’s Hy-Vee, Dan and I had the last shift of the night to ring for The Salvation Army, a longstanding tradition at the paper.

We were blessed with modest weather, which is always a gift once you reach late November in Iowa. I’d worn an extra pair of socks just in case, working off the advice of an old photographer who once told me, you can always take off your coat when it gets too hot, but you can’t put on a coat you didn’t bring with you.

I’m guessing that I spent a little extra time gearing up for my one hour shift than Dan did, but that’s because I’m still a little new at this. A confession; I’m a reluctant volunteer, and I’ve never been a joiner. As reporters, we get used to watching things from the sidelines without ever getting a chance to participate. I’ve sat through hundreds of meetings without ever saying a word, writing the words of others down as fast as I can. Like the old story about the cobbler’s children, the last thing I want to do when I’m not working is attend another meeting, which is why I can honestly say I’ve never attended a city council meeting, or a school board meeting, or really any other meeting as a private citizen.

I’d be lying if I told you I was excited about volunteering, rather I did it out of guilt. Monday morning there will still plenty of open spaces on the sign up sheet for bell ringing, and my editor, Abigail Pelzer, sent out an email urging all of us to sign for a shift. Reluctantly, I added my name to the list.

It’s not that I don’t see the value of volunteering, like most folks, I’m hesitant to get out of my comfort zone. My parents are doubtlessly a little disappointed. Not only did they raise me better, they’ve always set the example. Growing up my brother and I usually only ate dinner at night with my mom, dad was always serving on one committee or another. As president of the Waukee Public Library Foundation, dad was instrumental in helping the library fundraise enough money to move out of the old fire station and into a disused church that more than tripled the space of the fire station library. Dad was also volunteering somewhere, serving on a board, lending his time to different organizations. As Boy Scouts, my dad was the troop leader, which meant come popcorn sale time our garage was filled with boxes and boxes of popcorn that we’d spend entire weekends sorting.

So how’d the apple fall so far from the tree?

The only explanation I can offer is that maybe I’m burned out on volunteering, even though I’ve done so little of it. Like yardwork, it was a big part of my childhood, which explains the leaves are still piling up in my yard, the day before it’s supposed to snow. Maybe the trick for me is just getting over the hump.

Because once I got there, I had fun. I really enjoyed ringing the bell, even though the ding makes it impossible to carry on any sort of conversation. I’m competitive, so I tried to make sure I greeted every single person who walked through the door, and Newton being Newton, I know you’re not surprised to hear that I saw quite a few people I knew.

While I can’t claim my vigorous ringing strategy alone is the result, I was pretty excited to see a staff email that went out the next day that said the paper’s staff was responsible for the highest single day of donations yet. The Salvation Army plays an important role in our community, and I’m glad to support them, no matter how much of a reluctant volunteer I might be.

Contact David Dolmage at ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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