The Perfect Present

I coach. That’s my way of giving back.

For the past three years I haven’t had a season off. Football blends into basketball, which runs headlong into baseball until it starts all over again. Sometimes sports overlap, so it’s summer basketball during baseball season, indoor baseball during basketball season. And with three kids, there are any number of teams that need an extra hand.

Yeah, it’s probably a little crazy. But it’s worth it.


Well, first, my kids like sports. It gives us something to do together, even if it’s just shooting hoops in the driveway on an uncommonly warm November weekend.

Athletics can also be a great teacher of lessons that go well beyond the playing field. Competition is like a big, sweaty greenhouse for incubating teamwork, dedication, hard work, perseverance and leadership. It also teaches you that even when you think you’ve got the game licked, there’s something more to learn, somewhere else to improve.

But mostly, I coach because I owe it to the people who spent hours teaching me how to protect my fingers on a bunt, how to keep my eyes up when dribbling and how to make practice fun. I coach because there’s no better way to repay what all those coaches did for me, because you don’t know when a bit of encouragement or extra prodding or even just a ride to the game is going to make a difference in someone’s life.

And it’s not just me. A quick survey around our office finds colleagues …
  • spending an entire holiday weekend staffing a community festival

  • participating in the Cleveland Metroparks’ annual Raptor Survey, which documents birds of prey and their nests

  • helping at animal shelters to walk the dogs and give cats clean food, water and litter boxes

  • packing bags, stocking shelves, filing paperwork and doing anything else that needs done at a hunger center

  • joining with other parishioners at schools, agencies and centers throughout the city for an organized day of service

  • chairing the parents committee that puts on a high school prom

  • raising money to train volunteers who represent abused and neglected children going through the courts in family disputes.
I’m not surprised. Cleveland has a history of giving, as the home of the first community chest, where the United Way got its start and where an Elyria man founded Easter Seals back in 1919.

No doubt that tradition continues today. But we’re slipping, Cleveland.

According to Volunteering in America, our city ranks 26th among 51 large cities with a volunteer rate of 25.8 percent (our lowest number in years). That places us behind cities such as Columbus (6), Pittsburgh (18) and Cincinnati (20).

For the first time since 2004, Cleveland’s volunteer rate has slipped below the national average. And our total volunteer hours were almost cut in half to 31.6 million hours from 2007 to 2008.

This is at a time when nonprofits need help the most. Eighty percent of nonprofits who responded to a Volunteers in America survey reported some level of fiscal stress between September 2008 through March 2009. For close to 40 percent of them, the stress was considered “severe” or “very severe.”

So rather than cut services, many cut staff, meaning volunteers were more important than ever. In fact, one out of every three organizations reported increasing their reliance on volunteers.

And things are only going to get worse. A full third of nonprofits expect to cut staff in the coming year.

So we must do what we always have — we must help. This month, we’re providing a little inspiration and guidance for volunteering (see “Live the Good Life,” page 104).

I coach. What can you do?
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