When You Least Expect It...

A 9/11 Day of Service Story

When You Least Expect It…

Some of our favorite stories to tell are those of unique and rewarding experiences had by volunteers and the nonprofits hosting them. Activate Good volunteer, Ken Dean, didn’t know what the day would bring when he signed up to photograph volunteers during Activate Good’s 9/11 Day of Service. Read on to find out the unexpected way his day unfolded:

Ken Dean
Ken Dean


I wrapped up about five minutes early at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle gardening project, and asked Mrs. Google how to get me to my next assignment.  The morning’s coffee was working its magic, so I swung into a McDonald’s for a brief, two-minute stop.  And then I was on my way.  I was so pleased to see that the Veterans Helping Veterans project was very close.  I actually pulled onto the street and started looking for the house about five minutes before my scheduled 10:15 arrival time.

And as I looked up at what had to be the house, I saw a woman with an iPhone taking a group photo of about twenty or so folks, all dressed up for their day of volunteering.  My first thought was “That’s perfect!  Somebody is thinking and getting a photo before they start work.”  But not wanting to miss out on a chance while everybody was together, I rushed up and introduced myself and jokingly asked if I could get just a few more photos.  Everyone was in really great spirits, and happily obliged me.


After a few minutes, I made my way up to the porch to see what the plan was for everybody.  I had to make sure that I knew where to position myself so that I could capture many moments of these wonderful folks as they did their work.  But as I was chatting with one woman, I noticed a few folks starting to leave!  And so I asked, “Have you all been working already?”

“Honey, we’re done!  We had so many folks show up that we had it all knocked out in about 45 minutes!”

I was amazed and thrilled for them.  And I was so grateful that I’d left the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle project a few minutes early!  Two minutes later and I’d have entirely missed the photo of everybody after their day of service!  Whew!!!

But the story doesn’t end there.  Theodore offered to give me a tour as the rest of the crew dispersed.  And when we got to the art gallery, he asked if I’d be willing to help with another project that he’d been meaning to get to.  It seems that one of the programs that he offers is a ceramics/art class for the veterans.  They come in and glaze pieces, then Theodore and his helpers finish them in an onsite kiln.  Some of the pieces are pretty complex, others might just be a single color over a vase.  But it’s about the process more than anything.  Isn’t all art?  Anyway, the finished pieces either go on display in the gallery, or get sold in the gift shop.


Well, he’d been meaning to have a bunch of these photographed so that he could post them on their website.  He just hadn’t gotten around to it.  And would I mind taking some time to do that for him?  How could I say “No”?  Heck, I was scheduled to be there for another hour.  And this would be a pretty simple project.  Simple.  But for Theodore, necessary.

And so for about 30 minutes, I moved and photographed these treasures.  Just me in a little room, with my camera and countless hours of art/therapy/history surrounding me.  I’d gently pick up a vase or a figurine, wondering what the story was with the veteran who had painted it.  What had that art time meant to him?  Had she found peace, even temporarily, in the process of focusing her attention on her art?  How much love went into each of these pieces?  I suppose I captured images of over 50 works.  How many hours of time (therapy?) was in this work?  It was truly touching.

I’ve promised to get all of these images onto a disk, and send it to Theodore.

It was a moving experience.  I’m glad that it worked out like it did.

If you’re looking to meet new people, have an adventure, and make a difference in someone’s life, find the volunteer opportunity that’s right for you at activategood.org!