It's no big secret that I volunteer for a few non-profits in the area. And it's no big secret that I spend much of my extra time running around trying to find bargains on toiletries, outerwear and boots for kids. It's been an interest of mine for the past few years and as the needs of this area continued to grow, so have the hours I've put in.
I've always said, the reason to do these things is simple: you can't fix everything, but you can volunteer some time here and there to help someone who's struggling and in turn, you surround yourself with good karma and a heart that overflows with gratitude. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine a day would come when those things big and small that I did would be recognized in such a surreal manner.
It started just a few weeks ago at the height of our volunteer work for the Santa Fund (providing boots, snowpants and outerwear to kids in need). We distributed hundreds and hundreds of items in a short amount of time. One evening, I got an email from our fearless leader, Janet, saying that on Monday, December 9th, the Santa Fund would be recognized for its service to the children in the community. I was absolutely thrilled at this knowing that it might prompt the residents of the area to donate money or coats once they are reminded of the good we do at the city council meeting.
It was a long Monday. I had worked all day, drove my kids all around town, found time to prepare dinner and even do some laundry in between. It was one of those days where I couldn't catch my breath, my nerves were shot and I was feeling the sensation of my throat closing up from the stress of way too much to do. It was snowing and freezing rain, absolutely miserable, raw weather and my first thought was I don't really need to go to the City Council meeting to get my photo in the paper, let some of the other board members go and be recognized. You know how you just kind of start talking yourself out of things?
I mentioned to my husband, maybe, just maybe the weather might have canceled the meeting and he quickly shot the idea down. Those don't get canceled, like ever. This is New England. It's right down the road, just go and you'll be glad you did - it's about time they recognize the volunteer work you all do.
He followed me around as I got dressed. I was like what do you want? He just found things to chat about from the day's events. I found it very odd and then it hit me.
He's going to wrap my presents or something - there's definitely something fishy going on. So I finally just called him out.
You're up to something - are you hiding a present or something? He started to laugh.
Okay I'll let him have his fun.
I threw a few curls in my hair, added a fresh bit of lip gloss and off I went in the cold. As I drove over there, a car skidded left of center and just about plowed me into the next town. I swerved quickly and just about hit the sidewalk.
This is crazy. The weather sucks. I don't need accolades for my charity work..what if I got in an accident on the way to the meeting that would be horrible!
So I took it slow, almost to a crawl - still shaking from the near tragic moments just minutes before.
I got to City Hall. Just about fell on my ass three times trying to get through the icy parking lot - and entered the warm building. Mark had told me that there would be one meeting prior to the CC meeting and not to panic if it looked like it started without me.
I just stood in the hallway, not wanting to go barging in.
And waited some more...
Where the hell are the other board members - they should be walking in any time now - I'm not walking in alone.
Finally - I heard the door open to see some of my very favorite people in the world enter. Friends, children of friends, more friends.
Hey, what are you all doing here?
Stonefaced. All of them.
They were there for the City Council meeting segment dedicated to the walking trail.
We all went upstairs to the meeting. We walked in right at 7:00 pm as the pre-meeting shuffled out.
When I walked in, I saw more of my favorite people..some board members...and then family...my old boss...my kids' friends' parents, when I tell you all of my most treasured people (except my family in Ohio). My legs started to shake when I saw Mark and my three beautiful boys walk into the meeting with flowers and cards.
Heart attack city. Hands trembling, tears in eyes - all I could think of is - what did I do and what is going on here??? The board isn't getting recognized, are they?
The head of the board of the Santa Fund led me to the front two rows of the meeting. We sat through some approvals of the minutes, some banter about downtown restoration and what not. I had no idea that the entire back of the conference room was filled with my loved ones.
The Mayor came to the podium and started to speak about the Debra Bieniarz Memorial. I was very aware of this award and its recipients because it recognizes one person a year for their dedication to children in the Lakes Region. Debra was a police officer who died tragically. Every year a committee selects someone to be recognized based on nominations from city residents for this award.
I can't breathe at this point. Surely I am not the recipient of this award, I am NOT worthy of this.
He started speaking of all of the things I've done. I heard every other word because I was fighting the urge to do the ugly cry. And I mean the sobbing, bent over, drooling, snotty ugly cry. I was trying to breathe and stay calm but at that point I even forgot how to inhale.
"This year's recipient is always willing to help out our community's children and families. She is resourceful and uses her community connections to help guide families to services that are needed. The Lakes Region is very lucky to have her in our community; she is loved and respected by many and has truly made a huge difference in many children's lives...In recognition of this year's honoree's tremendous commitment to the youth of Laconia, I am very proud to present this year's recipient....Andrea..."
I stumbled to the Mayor's side. Took the beautiful gold plate and shook his hand. I might have stopped crying long enough to get a photo for the newspaper and say a few words. As I looked out into the audience and saw myself surrounded by the love of friends and family, I am pretty sure my heart exploded because I couldn't breathe from the pressure in my chest fueled by an indescribable level of pride.
I will never ever be confident or secure enough to say that I accepted the award with a feeling that I deserved it. I still do not feel worthy enough to carry this honor as there are so many people that give tirelessly to this community, but I am gracious enough to accept the accolades and use the trust the community has in me to continue to pay my blessings forward.
As we all walked out of the meeting, and I was handed bundles and bouquets of flowers, letters, cards and other gifts - coupled with already shaking, carrying my coat and purse, I knew what was coming next.
I dropped the plate.
It made the LOUDEST noise. Imagine the sound the crashing of 2 cymbals make when a bandmember slams them together during a performance in an orchestra. Then multiply that by 100.
I've had this award for 4 minutes and I dropped it. This is why we can't have nice things.
My husband, who was still in the meeting, addressed the concerned council goers.
"We're Greek. We break plates when we celebrate."
The meeting erupted in laughter.
So in typical DG fashion, I'm awarded one of the highest honors in this community, and I almost break it before I even get out the door.
There's a scratch on that plate from the fall. It's flawed, it's imperfect and I love it.
It's just like me.
Thank you all for supporting me in my adventures en-route to making this world a better place.
xo Cheers and love,
the Do-Gooder known as DG
Ps - I had to scan in the letter my 13 year old wrote me on behalf of my boys...I almost drown in tears.