Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Small Town, Big Inspiration.

The worst thing that can happen when you give something to someone is that they blatantly don't like it. Actually, scratch that, the real worst thing is when you give and they are indifferent about it. Like, “Eh, nice to have I guess, but it doesn't really do a lot for me”. This is why people stress about gift giving, because they want to give something that is meaningful. This feeling is multiplied by about a thousand when you are talking about giving of your time. You can give diamonds (conflict-free I would hope), you can give gift cards, you can even give engraved items that are especially personal, but what could possibly be a more valuable gift than of your time?

I've been giving my time in various ways throughout these travels. Sometimes its been in exchange for a place to sleep at night (whether it be a private cabin or airy loft space), other times its been in exchange for food (and endless garden goodies), but I have also given just to give because it was something that I wanted to do.

Volunteering though can be a tricky thing though, as most Volunteer Coordinators will tell you. First the task has to be something that the volunteer can actually do, then it should be something that they want to do and oh ya, it should also be something that actually needs to be done. This may sound like an easy 3 point checklist, but it can be really complicated and when it doesn't work out it can be disastrous! If the right combination isn't reached, the volunteer may actually cause more work then there was to begin with, or can do something that they realize is basically pointless and can leave discouraged and disgruntled. Nothing is worse than feeling like an underused, idle volunteer, it might be The Ultimate Worst Waste of Time. I've had a few of these moments myself in the past few months, and I wouldn't wish them on anyone. They definitely don't help the spirit of giving (or traveling), and they linger longer than the hours you were even supposed to be working. Thankfully though, this week has been full of not only meaningful work, but also work that is much needed.

Greensburg, KS was hit by a massive tornado in May 2007 that devastated this small town in the center of the state. Remarkably, I'm sure in some part to the siren wailing for 20 minutes that Friday night, only 11 people were killed in the storm. When the other 1,000+ residents came up from their shelters though, what they saw was a scene that many are still trying to emotionally digest. Everything that was Greensburg, KS had basically been blown away...pieces of it landing more than 3 miles in all directions. Midwesterners aren't really known for their laziness though, so it doesn't come as a huge surprise that these spirited (and spiritual) Americans were going to “rebuild!”. There is a surprising part though, they decided to not only rebuild Greensburg, but to rebuild it to be even Green-er.

More than two years after the storm, I've spent my time this week on the construction site of the Silo Home, a Green residence right in the middle of town. (Aptly named for its shape, and also poinant since the corn silo in town was one of the few buildings that survived the storm). It has a solar panel in the back yard, recycled cabinets in the kitchen, eco-friendlier paint all over and even a device that turns the humidity in the air into drinking water. There are numerous city buildings that are the highest qualifying level of Green, and then some residences have just a few green highlights - sustainable materials, newfangled heating systems, etc. You can find out all about it at Greenburg, Greenstown, the nonprofit who is leading the way in the town's green rebuilding efforts. The best part about all of this for me though is that I get to spend my time doing something that is 1. awesome 2. interesting 3. needed! I know without a doubt that every nail I hammer and doorframe I paint will be helping this organization not only rebuild their town, but also show everyone around the world that if a teeny tiny town in the middle of rural America can go above and beyond in their efforts to be a better community (and better world), then the rest of us have no excuses.

There are no cutting edge sustainable suppliers within miles of this town; there is no resident architect that already knew how to do all this new green building, but they made the effort to research and figure it out simply because they cared enough to try. Not to mention that they made this decision to give a damn under incredibly dramatic and tramatizing circumstances. The residents of Greensburg, and all those who have been helping them, are a true inspiration to the rest of the world. Things aren't known to be complicated in the Midwest so the simplest way to put it is, if they can do it, the rest of us in the world can too.

Check out these tips for getting your green in Day to Day Life & Building