All in a day's work

From responding to disasters to teaching CPR, Jackson Sellers finds meaning in volunteering

Monday, October 30, 2006

Question: Why are we here?

A. to increase quarterly profits;

B. to find out what happens next week on "Lost," et al;

C. to look sexy;

D. all of the above;

E. to make meaningful use of life.

Answer: For Jackson Sellers, it goes without saying.

The KU student in political science chooses to give his life meaning through giving his time for the needs of others, particularly through the American Red Cross, where he's volunteered for the last 15 years.

"Ultimately, volunteering is about understanding the world and knowing that we're not created to be economic units," Sellers says. Making money is "not who we are as human beings."

Sellers doesn't view his giving for the needs of others as generosity, though-more like reciprocation.

"I've been a beneficiary of public goods, you know, I wasn't a wealthy child," Sellers says. "I grew up in rural Tennessee, and I think we just valued what we had and valued justice. My grandmother-a huge fan of FDR-was probably the biggest influence on my life. She remembers the Depression and talks about it every day. Because she knows what it is to have nothing, she understands the value of fixing things that are inequitable.

"I think that value is implicated in me somewhere. I just feel that it's my responsibility as a citizen to be engaged with my community."

Sellers has served many organizations over the years, but the Red Cross has always occupied a special place in his heart.

"Responding in crises is an important instrument to have," Sellers says.

"At that particular moment, people are in tremendous amounts of need and can't even call upon their own emotional and financial and intellectual resources, because a crisis can be so incredibly devastating that they don't know how to respond."

In addition to regularly teaching first aid and CPR certification classes, Sellers is also a member of one of the Red Cross's Disaster Action Teams, which are among the first responders on the scene of local disasters, such as severe weather incidents or house fires. Jane Blocher, Executive Director of the Douglas County chapter, notes that the tasks these volunteers face are some of the most difficult-but also some of the most rewarding.

"They have to be ready to respond at any moment. Sometimes that moment comes at 3:00 in the morning, when they have to be at work or at school in only a few short hours. But serving in a time of need is also very rewarding for them, and they get a great deal of satisfaction from what they do."

But you don't have to be a DAT member to know how to respond to an emergency. As Sellers says, it's a matter of being prepared-and the first step is to educate yourself.

"Before you try to help someone else, think about it: do I have an emergency kit? Do I have a plan?" he says.

"Have a plan, take a first aid course so that you know what to do if you see a person fall off a bike going down the street. A better public response happens one person at a time, and it benefits, well, everyone."

For those who want to follow in the footsteps of Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross on the battlefields of the Civil War in 1881, there's plenty to do. From assembling comfort packets with necessities like shampoo and toothbrushes, to helping around the office, to teaching health and safety classes, to serving refreshments to blood donors, the Red Cross has something for everyone.

Sellers says if you volunteer, you won't regret it.

"Our purpose is to live in this world, to be engaged with our surroundings. Simply seeing the world around you through volunteering is an easy way of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and finding different circumstances, and I think the exposure naturally leads to more action," he says.

"I think it's about finding yourself in the world. You volunteer because it's meaningful. We're always looking for meaning in the world, and we find that in different ways."