No strings Attached

We have all heard the old saying, “nothing in this world is free”. There is always an exchange of “something” in every encounter or transaction we have with other human beings. Not always does this mean a monetary exchange for goods or services.

This could be a smile shared with a stranger, a wave of the hand, or a free meal for listening to a friend’s sales pitch. In any case, there always seems to be strings attached when we bump into another being.

In the charitable world, it can appear to many that these strings are cut. This is the one occasion where it seems there is only one giver to each receiver. Whether someone gives their time or money, on the other end there is someone receiving services or gifts. I would imagine many would articulate this scenario as a hand-out instead of a “hand-up”.

Regardless of your philosophical stance on how charities should conduct their business, I think there’s a point that may have been missed. I adventure to say that the strings do remain in these transactions, and they may well be more selfish than we imagined.

This December marks four years that I have had the good fortune of working at Miami County’s sole free clinic, Health Partners. I always tell people that I stopped “going to work” in December of 2012, because I truly feel blessed to be a part of an organization that provides the services that we do. During my few years in this position, what has surprised me the most is the moments of charity that have nothing to do with healthcare.

Last month one of these occasions presented itself. During the days before Thanksgiving, our staff was blessed to provide shoes to a patient that had worn out the same old pair of sandals that he had been wearing to his appointments all year. Observing that the soles were falling off these flimsy footwear, JoAnn, our nurse practitioner, huddled up the rest of the staff and devised a plan to get a new pair of shoes in his hands before he left that appointment.

With some quick logistics, we executed this plan flawlessly, even letting one of our students be the individual to hand these new shoes over to him. I can attest, we all floated on air that day after the patient left.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help but share this story with some of our closest Health Partners supporters. One such donor later made a comment to me that really put that whole scenario into perspective. She said, “You know, that’s what I want to be a part of! I’m over the pricey fundraisers and annual campaigns, because this is what really inspires me. This is what I want to hear about.”

She couldn’t have been more right.

But isn’t that just it!? This guy received a pair of shoes, but I guarantee we all were more blessed to give that gift than anyone could be to receive it. If you are anything like me, then you would agree that these are God-given moments throughout a week that are refreshing to the soul.

If I’m having a bad day or just feeling defeated by our work, then I will literally stalk other staff members or volunteers down in the Clinic and demand from them an inspirational patient story. I need them to live, just like air to breathe or food to eat.

So why do I say this is selfish? That’s easy. I’m made better by these occasions. Like the deer that panteth for water, so do I survive on these charitable moments and I know I’m not alone in this. We all need a break from the dryness of fleshly pursuits to fill up our spiritual cup. Truly, it’s sweeter than any dessert and tastier than the finest steak.

This Christmas season, I suggest you take just a small fraction of your budget and do something charitable. Give to a non-profit organization, buy a lonely widower a coffee and sit down with him, or put a smile on the face of a child that will spend their Christmas morning in the homeless shelter.

Do whatever you can to drive that beating drum in your chest to pound just a little harder. Please, go be selfish this year.

Justin Coby has been affiliated with Health Partners Free Clinic as a volunteer pharmacist since 2007, and was appointed executive director in 2012.

Justin Coby has been affiliated with Health Partners Free Clinic as a volunteer pharmacist since 2007, and was appointed executive director in 2012.