This past weekend I took a crash course in life saving. One of the requirements to attend nursing school is that you have to be CPR certified, so I signed up for a course at the Red Cross of Central Maryland, which is, coincidentally, a host site for one of our Volunteer Maryland Regional Coordinators, Lori Hall. After about eight hours I learned just how much work it takes to save a life (you have to compress an adult’s chest as far as two inches to keep the heart beating. Just put your own hand on your chest and try and imagine that… it’s no easy feat!).
This kind of life-saving can be taught. I learned the techniques, the order of tasks, and what actions you must do at a certain speed and duration in order to have the best chance of helping that person survive. However, during the class we also talked a lot about the things you can’t be taught when faced with an emergency situation. How to take charge of a chaotic situation, how to assess a scene and determine who is in need of the most urgent care, how to tell if an area is safe, and if not, if you can make it safe. These are skills that come with experience. When it came to the nuts and bolts of performing CPR, I started from square one, but when it came to these “intangibles,” I already had a leg up because of my past experiences, including my work as an AmeriCorps member.
The work that we do in nonprofits has the potential to save lives every day. While working with our AmeriCorps members, I have learned that by planting just one tree in your yard, you can prevent 300 gallons of pollutant-filled runoff water from entering the oceans every year. I’ve witnessed the joy and confidence that a mentor can help bring out in a child. I have participated in a citizens-on-patrol program created by AmeriCorps members that allowed people to walk safely in their neighborhoods at night.
This work is not always so obviously tied to life-saving…sometimes it’s writing the grant that allows the mentoring program to exist. Sometimes it’s creating a draft of the policies and procedures for the volunteer program, recieving feedback, and writing three more drafts before it’s usable. Sometimes it’s taking time to step back and recharge, by doing direct service or talking with peers about why you got into this job in the first place. Because no matter which way you look at it, the business of saving lives is hard work. Whether it’s the life of a human, animal, plant, or our whole planet, there isn’t any one size fits all fix. It takes creativity, determination, and sometimes-like when you’ve become utterly exhausted doing 100 chest compressions per minute for 30 minutes and the paramedics still haven’t arrived-it takes pure guts just to keep on going.
But we do it, because we have the skills, knowledge, and desire to do so. Now that I have this certification card, I have a duty to act in an emergency situation, because I now have the skills and knowledge, and I may be the only person at the scene who knows what to do. Do you approach your duties as an AmeriCorps member with that same sense of urgency and responsibility? Do you use your unique set of skills and knowledge to try, every day, to do what you can to ensure that someone can live a better life? If so, good for you, and make sure you keep enough balance in your life to allow you to keep on going. If not, think about one thing that you can do, today, to change that.
Today it is our responsibility to save lives…how will you do it?