Category Archives: volunteering

Ending 2012 with firefighters on my mind

Mike Chiapperini

Lt. Michael Chiapperini

I’ve spent the last two days watching funerals on TV. West Webster Firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were laid to rest and their services were aired live on one of our local news channels. (You can read more about the events that led to their deaths in this post.)

The services were so different. Chiapperini was married with children, and his funeral service focused on his family and on his 25 years with the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department and his 19 years with the Webster Police Department. The first hour was spent with first responders filing past his casket.

Tomasz Kaczowka

Tomasz Kaczowka

Kaczowka was just 19 years old, only a year out of high school; his funeral service was much more religious in nature, focusing on his committment to his Polish- American heritage and his strong ties to his church. The first hour of his service was a traditional Catholic mass.

In both cases, thousands and thousands of first responders from across the U.S. and Canada stood in formation outside the church or school where the services where held. Appropriate, as the two died together in the line of duty on the morning of Christmas Eve when a madman started a fire to lure first responders to the scene, and then gunned them down.

They died together, mentor and mentee.

Different funeral services, yes, but, like their lives, together they seemed to perfectly bookend the life of a first responder. Chapparini was the more experienced public servant, leaving behind a long legacy of public service and in the dozens of young people he’s mentored over his lifetime – one of them being Kaczowka. Kaczowka was in the spring of that call to a lifetime of service. That lifetime, though shorter in years, leaves a lasting impact that will be felt for decades through lives of other firefighters and coworkers who knew him.

On this last day of 2012, my original plan was to look back on the year and recap the positive changes I’ve made in my life and the obvious progress towards regaining my sense of self.

In other words: me, me, me, me.

But the events of the last week have left me pondering less about myself and more about the nature of service and community. Continue reading


I muse about the tragedy in Webster, NY

west webster patch

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, tragedy visited the small town of Webster, NY, when a madman set fire to a house and a car, luring first responders to the scene and then gunning them down in cold blood. What ensued were hours of confusion and chaos as SWAT teams descended on the small spit of land, a two lane road bordered on one side by Irondequoit Bay and the other by Lake Ontario, chasing the gunman, evacuating neighbors, and retrieving the bodies of shooting victims. Firefighters, unable to enter the area to fight the blaze, could only watch from a distance as seven houses burned to the ground and their commrades lay injured or dead.

West Webster volunteer firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were shot to death and John Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured by gunfire as they arrived on the scene. Jon Ritter, a full time officer with the Greece, NY police, was on his way to work; seeing the fire trucks he followed to offer assistance and was injured by shrapnel when gunfire hit his car.

This happened almost in my backyard, figuratively speaking. Webster, NY is a few miles from my house on the east side of Rochester, NY. My daughter went to Christian high school in Webster for three years; I often walk the beaches to take pictures where this event happened. Webster is part of the larger community of the city of Rochester. It’s a small town just outside of the city, but we’re all neighbors.

When things like this happen in other places, the national news media always reports that “it’s a small town where almost everyone knows someone who was affected.” But you never really understand what that means until it happens in your town.

Yes, I know someone affected. Several someones, in fact. (Click here to continue reading on my blog at

Three lessons I learned this month about following God

So I’m up at 7 AM because I need to write. Not want to write or have something I’d like to think about writing. I neeeeeed to write. Like, if I don’t write it, it’ll cause me great pain.

It’s about the concept of following God.

As you know, I’ve volunteered for a project recently. Without going into a lot of details, I was ready to work. Ready, willing, and able to do this and this and that, because I’m very experienced at this and this and that, and I’m very good at this and this and that, and the project needed this and this and that.

Perfect match, right? So I volunteered. And talked at length about doing this and this and that and thought I was part of the team and all was good.

Except – and if you’ve ever volunteered for something and God was in any way involved – this and this and that just wasn’t happening. That and that and this other thing were going full speed ahead, and a whole lot of other that and that and this other thing were happening and successful. Except me and my this and this and that were over on the sidelines by ourselves saying, “Hey, what about us?”

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

The problem, of course, wasn’t the project. The problem was me. I was focused on what I’d volunteered to do, not on what was being done. Sure, I can do this and this and that, but maybe this and this and that isn’t needed any more. Or maybe someone else stepped up to do this and this and that and they do it just fine.

But I wanted to help. I wanted to be part of the whole thing. I offered and they said yes and then everything moved and I was left behind.

Really. Even I see how glaringly arrogant that sounds.

So lying in bed last night, feeling left out – boo hoo for poor me – it occurred to me that if I focused instead on what did happen instead of what didn’t, maybe I’d learn a lesson.

Or three.

Here goes … Continue reading

Me and my “disposable dog”

Bailey, the day I brought her home from the shelter, January 22, 2011. She was six weeks old.

13WHAM News did a story tonight on what they called “Disposable Dogs,” puppies and dogs that irresponsible backyard breeders keep producing and then bringing to the shelter. Sometimes it’s day old puppies; sometimes it’s the mother dogs who have been bred till they’re no longer useful and then dumped; sometimes it’s adult dogs people bring home and then turn over when they’re bored with them.

Reporter Jane Flasch said in the story that about 1028 pit bulls were euthanized in 2011 at Rochester Animal Services. I volunteered at RAS for a year – an experience I absolutely loved but also one that broke my heart every time I was there. (I only stopped volunteering when I had to get a real job, which lasted a few weeks. Then Scout got sick, Bailey and Bandit had their turn of events, and I wasn’t able to go back. But I digress.)

The report included not just interviews with people like Jenn Fedele, founder of Pitty Love Rescue – the story incorrectly identified Jenn as a breeder; she is most definitely not a breeder – but also photos taken in the tech rooms at RAS of dogs being euthanized.

Seriously, having just had to put my darling Scout to sleep after a battle with cancer, I did not need to see that. But maybe you did, so that you could understand how serious the problem is.

As I watched the story, one thing stood out: had Bailey not come home with me on January 22, 2011, she would have been one of those statistics. Continue reading

TripBase “My 7 Links” Blog Project – My favorite posts and 5 blogs for you to check out

I was “tagged” this week by Carol Bryant at Fido Friendly’s blog to take part in the TripBase “My 7 Links” blog projects, designed “To unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.” Thanks, Carol!

My task: to share with you 7 links from my blog and then 5 blogs you ought to check out. So here goes!

My most popular post – Strictly in terms of page views, this is the post that has gotten the most views all time on the Notes From The Funny Farm blog: Continue reading

Thought for the day: Loving the unlovable

“Churches are filled to the brim with people who love the lovable. But if you want to know true love, if you want to capture the very heart of Jesus’s teaching, if you want to tap into the extraordinary – love those who do not love you back or learn to love the seemingly unlovable.”

– author Matthew Paul Turner, “Provocative Faith”

This was years ago. I had been attending a church for a very long time, and was having a discussion with some folks about inner city outreach. This church was very good at helping people from the inner city find churches in the inner city. I threw out the question, “Well, what would we do if a prostitute came to our church?” – our nice, clean upper middle class suburban church. One of the women in leadership responded, “We’d help her find a church in the city that would best suit her needs.”

I’d like to say I was surprised, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that from church leadership. Several years before I’d volunteered for a project called Flower City Work Camp, helping with mini Vacation Bible Schools on the streets of the inner city during spring break. I did it for several years, but that first year I bonded with a few of the kids. They asked to come to church with me, so for a few Sundays my husband, daughter and I picked them up. First two kids, then three, then more wanted to come than we could fit in our car.

I asked around the church to see if anyone else would help pick up kids, and the only taker was a couple who, unable to have kids of their own, adopted … well, I don’t know how many now … but I’m sure that if they’d had room in their own already crammed van they would have not only brought the kids to church but offered them a home. But that wasn’t going to be enough. The few kids was growing to more kids and their families.

Instead of helping to find ways to get the kids to church, the pastor gently suggested that I connect them with a church in their neighborhood.

Their drug and crime ridden, very dangerous neighborhood.

I was very, very naive about organized church, having up until that point attended very small churches or a house church. So I did what was suggested, and found the kids a church in their neighborhood. The kids, understandably, felt like I’d abandoned them. Which I had. I still cry over that.

I understand why the pastor suggested a local church; the kids needed more than just Sunday School. They needed role models and breakfast programs and a safe place to go after school, all that they could see on a daily basis. At the same time, I think our church really missed an opportunity for some intense – and probably not very comfortable – spiritual growth. It was easier to hand over the kids than actually step in and help, to drive into the dangerous streets and pick the kids up every week, to bring into our fold children and families who live and think (and bathe) differently than we do. We missed the opportunity to really – really – reach out to the inner city.

I’ve never felt good about that decision, so when the conversation came up again years later, I spoke up.

“So if a prostitute came into our church we’d send her somewhere else to have her needs met?” I remember asking. The woman said yes (and everyone else agreed with her). “Can you tell me what her needs are that are different than my needs?” Blank looks.

I left that church not long after, not because I thought there was something wrong with the church. I’d loved that church for years. I left because I felt God talking to me in a way that he wasn’t talking to everyone else – or if he was, they weren’t hearing the same thing I was.

I was hearing love the unlovable. Love the dirty, unwashed, and ill-mannered until you don’t notice that they’re different than you are. Because they’re not. We all have the same needs – the need for food and shelter and water, for companionship and safety, for an eternal answer to our spiritual questions.

A prostitute walking into a suburban church has the same needs at a corporate executive sitting in the same pew. And when you start to think of people in that way, it’s much easier to love the seemingly unlovable. “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Making service your career vs. being a servant in your career (is there a difference?)

As I’m working through notes and outlines for this project about missions and volunteering, I’m coming up with a list of really interesting questions that I’d love to get your thoughts about.

One thing I’ve been pondering is the number of young adults I know who were involved in short term missions as teens and then went on to become career missionaries. I wonder if that’s because there were called to the mission field – or were they never taught that the world is their mission field, that they could  be missionaries from their desks in corporate America or from behind the store counter, etc?

What I mean is this: is there a difference between signing on with a mission agency to serve on the mission field (ie: raising funds, moving to another country, etc) and embarking on a mainstream career where you serve your coworkers and other people you encounter every day? Can you love your neighbor equally from the Sudan or from behind the counter at Starbucks?

Are they both servants? Is one more “other focused”? Or is the mindset of loving your neighbor something that happens regardless of your occupation or where you lay your head at night?  I’ve love to hear your thoughts!