Giving Back: The Power of Service to Others

By Ryan Shortill, Founder/CEO Positive Adventures

There was an orientation towards service in my family. As a child I was proud to have an Army helicopter pilot for a father and a night shift nurse for a mother. My extended family included a great uncle, a priest and legendary great aunts who taught their entire lives.

There was always a natural inclination to help. We were told of stories during the great depression of “The Farm”, as my family called it, giving the hungry passerby a few ears of corn to bring on their bleak journey.

My own volunteer experience of any memory or merit was handing out meals at the local church soup kitchen when I was about 15 years old. My first girlfriend had been involved for some time with the help of her parents and I tagged along as a form of date. We had a wonderful time and people were full of appreciation.

Later, in my early adulthood I worked at a summer camp. I had gained the responsibility of planning off-camp excursions. I set out to take a van load of privileged youth to the dark old cobblestone streets of Portland, Maine to a soup kitchen I had found. At first there was nervous energy and hesitation from the teen campers.

Sure, there were people with missing teeth and many were unshaven, there were also families with young children and elderly people who were grateful to have a hot meal and friendly interaction. Everyone soon had a job and, by working together, came together in that soup kitchen to be embraced with the gift of caring.

After our responsibilities had ended my campers and I sat down by the van. We had a fantastic conversation of what it meant to support your local community and how it supports the giver just as much as the receiver. The kids were honest about feeling judgmental coming into the experience and how this shifted into positivity upon completion of the night’s service. I was amazed by the depth and level of their candor.

They spoke not like the average teen, or even as they would had just a few hours before.

Something had happened. In that moment, I witnessed something I have strived to recreate every day with the work I do.

In the beginning, there was just myself. No one to bounce ideas off of and no one committed to seeing it through with me from afar. Alone, out of work, and back at square one I made a conscious decision. I was not going to look for another job, another check and another person who had a say in how I showed up.

I chose to volunteer and hedge my bets on the universe, trusting that by giving into the highest power that trust would be reflected back.

With nothing but an idea and a few pieces of important paperwork, a business was born. The world is looking for helpers and the doors are always open for people who wish to align with a cause. In my case, I sought opportunities that were with youth, the arts, the disadvantaged and the recently released from prison. I sat on committees, helped run events and participate in fundraisers. I offered what I had and each environment was grateful.

Those people, in the earliest of days of my tenure in San Diego, who worked tirelessly for the populations they served, became my first clients. Created by mutual admiration and respect, that with the choices before us, we choose a greater cause than ourselves.

Every year on my birthday I make music at a holiday party for children waiting on transplants at Rady Children’s Hospital. The first year we participated we happened to meet a director who was interested in our trainings, having learned about the company during the holiday party.

Rady continues to be one of our longest and most active clients. This entire relationship started by playing drums and shakers with children and families, all faces beaming with joy.

Now, the feeling and sentiment are still there, only the projects and levels of service have greatly magnified in both scope and practice. It is said, “the big jobs are for those who outgrow the small”. Nationally, our clients invest in projects of lasting impact fortifying the local communities they serve or are visiting. How can we invest in our days with our hearts to help those who do not know us, but are the same as us, sharing in this communal experience we call Life.

In retrospect, I owe a great deal to a kind young lady whose parents’ wisdom illuminated, if by a small degree, a broader flame of insight regarding the impact a person can make in another’s life.

In my darkest times it was helping others that most helped me.

And when given the choice, the bonds made in unified support of others deliver us from our own issues and insecurities, fostering a sheltered haven where we can come into our own and experience our life’s potential.

Each day, opportunities present themselves as chances to do what is most right. Picking up a stray piece of trash, a kind word, or a written note of thanks, each of these acts sends out a vibrational energy. Low vibrational energy consists of pain, put downs and self-doubt. High vibrational energy consists of acts of service thus serving the group as a whole. In almost every moment of the day we have a choice, choose positive!

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