Step Up and Make A Difference Serve Others

"Service to Humanity is the Best Work of Life"

The last line of the Creed of the Junior Chamber of Commerce (The Jaycees)

On September 11th 2008, Senators (and Candidates) McCain and Obama spoke about the importance of personal public service to our country and culture. They expressed support of the idea to make military and civilian service a priority. One of the fastest ways to cultivate a sense of commitment to your community and your country is by stepping up to serve others. The satisfaction, dignity and pride that emerge from this are substantial.

I have served as both an enlisted man and as an officer in the Army Reserve and National Guard. And I've served my communities through numerous non-profit and charitable organizations.

As a young adult I remember feeling that I was being selfish by not getting involved in serving my community. There was no specific stimulus that I recall, just a general feeling that I had a duty to do something for others. One night at my friend, Bill Gillespie's home another friend, David Puckett, asked, "Bill, didn't you once belong to the Little Rock Jaycees?" He said yes. And David said, "They are trying to form a new chapter of the Jaycees here in Pulaski Heights. There's a meeting this week, you should go." I asked, "Can I go?" He said, with a slight pause, "Sure, I guess so." So I went.

The meeting was in the community room of a small local bank. There were only a handful of people there but I remember vividly that when Bill Patrick and Jimmy Wallace spoke of how satisfying it was to serve your community and how you could learn leadership skills by doing so, I felt compelled to join them. I signed up that night, paid my $10 or $20 and volunteered to help bring more people to the next meeting.

Meeting number two was in Glenn Cox's barber shop. We had a room full of people and scheduled yet another meeting until we finally had our original 20 members that were required to charter a new chapter. I recruited 13 of those 20 people.

When it was time to elect officers someone nominated me for charter president but I declined, feeling unsuited for the challenge. We elected Larry Peters and I was named "State Director" (that's the chapter's liaison to the State Headquarters). Then the work began.

We needed a regular meeting place, a list of projects to do to serve the community, training for all of our new members and officers, and more. Our treasurer had to open a bank account for us, someone needed to learn how to run a meeting well. Feeling overwhelmed but ready to work, I immersed myself in reading the "Officers & Directors Guide" and the other publications put out by the Jaycees national headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, I read the O & D Guide from cover to cover three full times in about a month! It was filled with great ideas and systems for running projects, leading meetings, motivating volunteers and more.

I learned the fundamentals of Parliamentary Procedure and how to establish a constitution and by-laws. And, about every third day, I was attending or leading a meeting.

Within three months I had done so much and learned so much that I was elected District Director (at that time they called it "State Vice President" and there was one in each district). This meant that I would be the advisor from the State Headquarters to the five new chapters in my district and any others that we chartered thereafter. Soon it was seven chapters and I found that I now had a new full-time job (without pay) in the evenings and weekends after my regular day job. The Jaycees became my mission and joy. I was fully involved and loving the challenge and the feeling that what I was doing mattered to the rest of the world.

One of my chapters was my own, The Pulaski Heights Jaycees, another was in the wealthier neighborhood, The Metro-West Jaycees, and then there was the Southwest Jaycees and the East End Jaycees. The East End was in an all black neighborhood and some of the charter members had been active members of the Black Panthers. To say that my job was "interesting" would be an understatement. I spent my nights after work going to people's homes and holding meetings with all kinds of new people in the cause of community service and leadership training. I was selling the mission and systems of the Jaycees virtually every night. And it worked. We grew and thrived and soon were being acknowledged statewide for our successes.

I'll save you the longer story, but suffice it to say, that I attended and participated in or led 400 Jaycees meetings in my first two years as a member. I worked on committees, moved boxes, cleaned floors, recruited new members, sold tickets, manned registration tables at Walk-a-thons and other fund-raisers. I attended training sessions and led other ones. I read manuals, listened to tapes and guest speakers, helped people serve food, painted addresses on curbs to raise money, stuffed envelopes, made phone calls and much more. My wife and baby boy were present for many of these events and pitched in wherever they could. Our life now revolved around the Junior Chamber of Commerce and community service. It was as if I had been starving and recently discovered a cache of food. I couldn't get enough.