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February 2009
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Scrabble as service

I suspect that for the vast majority of Americans, we all talk a good game about civic service but as the saying goes, we don’t “walk the walk” as often as we could. This is a story about one person’s experience at helping.

My wife and I have a 21 year old son in the house who, lately has been experiencing what so many others are- a temporary lapse in employment. House rules for those “of age” and living under our roof is that you either A) must be employed and pay rent or B) you must make some other contribution to society, i.e., do some volunteer work.

I wanted to help our son out because I could just tell he was highly motivated to make his contribution. Volunteermatch turned up an amazing list of opportunities. The Mercy Corps is looking for a business mentor to help those brave enough to start a new business. Nature Abounds is looking for help studying climate changes in the area. As I began to put a list together, one opportunity caught my attention. The Hospital for Special Care is a renowned rehabilitation facility in my area. They were looking for someone to play Scrabble one evening a week with a resident. This was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I signed up.

A couple of email exchanges and orientation sessions later with their Manager for Volunteer Services and I was an official volunteer complete with photo ID. (Ok, so I did get a little testy when their volunteer aplication asked for my work history. “I’m volunteering to play Scrabble, for crying out loud!”, I wrote in that space on the application.)

I showed up for my first game with Phil who, it turns out is a fabulous Scrabble player and has a terrifically dry sense of humor. We ended up playing for two hours.  We talked breifly about politics, debated the acceptability of latin words on a Scrabble board and when all was said and done, he beat me soundly by about 30 points.

I left there hungry. It was way after my usual supper time but it was great and in retrospect, it was easy. I learned that volunteering isn’t always about delivering meals on wheels or unloading food at a food bank or pushing a broom on a Saturday although it can be those too.

Our new President talks about Service. With all of the comparisons I’ve heard between Barack and John F. Kennedy, I half expected his inaguration to contain at least a reference to those famous words, “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…”. I’m glad he didn’t. It would have been trite. But he’s right. If you don’t do it, who will? My simple game of Scrabble doesn’t come close to measuring up to the contributions I’ve heard that others made to the people in New Orleans after Katrina or in the aftermath of 9-11. But it’s something and as an old mentor told me once, “something is better than nothing”.

Phil, I have a word for you. It’s 7 letters, 14 points, 42 if I can get triple word score. The word is “REMATCH”. Next week, same time, same place but I’m bringing a dictionary.

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