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Family shares tales to rouse volunteerism

Aaron Brown was brushing his teeth one morning sometime in mid-2011 when he says he looked in the mirror and didn’t like who he saw.

In what he called an “aha moment,” the idea came to him to form an organization. He would call it Impact 52, and it started with just four members – himself, his wife and their two daughters.

Brown’s notion was that every week his family would do something, one thing, to help other people. It wouldn’t have to be anything big. They would volunteer for a couple of hours with an organization one week. The next week, they’d volunteer with a different organization, or lend a hand to someone in need.

Meanwhile, they would blog about the organizations they encountered and what they had done.

A year and a half later, Impact 52 still had only four members. But that’s OK. It was never meant to grow into a burgeoning organization with CEOs and treasurers and media contacts. Its purpose wasn’t to grow. Its purpose was to make a little bit of difference a little bit at a time.

And a little bit at a time, Brown’s Impact 52 has gotten attention. People in dozens of countries around the world started reading the blog. People from Alaska to New York sent Brown messages and told him his family’s blog inspired them to get involved themselves.

One day, someone called Brown and asked how to sign up to be part of the team.

Well, you don’t sign up. You just follow their lead, wherever you are.

A year and a half into Impact 52, the Brown family blog (www.impact52.org) has become a sort of instruction manual on how to get involved. Want to get involved but you’re not sure what sort of contribution you can make? The blog describes the Brown family’s experiences with about 70 organizations, plus a lot of other activities they have pursued on their own.

After all, a person can make a difference by themselves. They don’t necessarily need a big organization to do it.

“I’m just trying to show people the options,” Brown said.

At the same time, Brown said, he has witnessed what he calls the good, the bad and the ugly of volunteering.

For example, Brown said he has tried to volunteer at some organizations by filling out online forms with his name, address and phone number, but then no one ever responded.

It happens, Brown said. Organizations plead for volunteers, but when people try to volunteer, they are ignored.

As a result of his experiences, Brown has found himself being called on by some organizations as a consultant. He’s not an expert, he said, but people are seeking him out, asking his advice. Brown offers it, for free. He is, after all, a volunteer.

This year, Brown decided to try something different for the Christmas season. His family embarked on what he called 25 days of giving.

Starting Dec. 1, they did something every day – little stuff. Call an old friend you haven’t spoken to for a long time and say hello. Give Christmas cards to residents at a nursing home. Read stories to an elementary school class, drop some change into the Ronald McDonald House donation container at the McDonald’s drive-thru.

You might have gone to lunch one day this month and found that there was already time on the meter. That’s because Brown went downtown and stuffed quarters into all the meters so people could park for free.

Brown, who calls himself a professional volunteer, acknowledges that there are a lot of people doing a lot more than his family, “but we’ve been able to tell our story.”

And he hopes that as his family’s story reaches more people, it will create an epidemic of giving, he said.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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