Tell me I have led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.”
These are words spoken by the primary fictional character — as an elderly World War II veteran — in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” but the screenplay writer’s well-chosen words from the 1998 film still inspire local individuals today.
Gabrielle Ryan was distributing fliers Tuesday morning near Central Middle School when she noted the parallel between volunteerism and the words spoken by the character of an aging James Ryan as he wept over the ultimate sacrifices others made for his sake.
“Those words are so true,” the Columbus woman said. “My son, Patrick, is in Afghanistan. My younger son, Matthew, is a military cadet. When your kids put their lives on the line, it just grounds you. For me, volunteering is part of that.”
The volunteer resource manager for Aging and Community Services of South Central Indiana understands what both the real and fictional Ryans were expressing.
“We do what we need to do to take care of our family but, ultimately, don’t we want to say at the end of our lives, ‘Did I do my part?’” Vicki Bateman said. “Was it always how much money we have or what kind of house we lived in? Did I just take from my surroundings, or did I give something back? We all have to face our legacy. And helping others? What a legacy!”
Ryan was one of 25 Cummins employees in Columbus who participated in the local Sept. 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.
The observance was created by Congress in 2009 as an annual and forward-looking tribute to the victims, survivors and those who rose up in service in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Every year, I see more and more people volunteering for longer periods of time,” said Volunteer Action Center director Angie Huebel. “It’s like volunteering has been re-energized the last couple of years.”
The fliers Ryan and three other Cummins Inc. employees distributed provided the elderly with tips on how to prevent Medicare fraud and identity theft.
As they walked door-to-door near Central Middle School, seven other Cummins engineers spent the morning painting the Legal Aid office in the United Way Center. A third team helped construct a ramp for a family in Candlelight Village.
Few people in Bartholomew County understand the value of volunteerism more than Bateman, a Columbus native who worked for the United Way’s former “First Call For Help — Volunteer Services” agency from 1989 to 1994. After she left, Bateman continued to volunteer for the organization for another seven years.
For Bateman, volunteering is the best way to become connected and engaged with your own community. So she has difficulty understanding those who feel they don’t get anything by working without pay.
“You get something back by volunteering because it makes you more aware and prepared,” Bateman said. “It could be meeting a new friend, learning a new skill or discovering something you’ll need later down the road. But sometimes, it’s just that warm fuzzy feeling after we’ve put a smile on someone’s face.”
While only a few dozen volunteers participated Tuesday, commitments have been made for a number of upcoming Day of Service projects that will involve about 350 volunteers from now through October, according to Huebel.
She added the change from last year’s event, which attracted an estimated 275 volunteers for one day, was made to accommodate volunteers who prefer to work late in the week, as well as companies who use their volunteer project as a source of team-building.
While Bateman doesn’t believe that busy lifestyles, a fragile economy or technology have reduced volunteerism in her hometown of Columbus, she said it has created more flexibility.
“It doesn’t have to be all gung-ho or nothing. There is middle ground. They can volunteer from their homes using their computer. They can contribute for 15 minutes a day or maybe three hours out of the entire year. But it still makes a difference and our community a better place to be,” Bateman said.
Cummins engineer Aunshuman Ghosh of Columbus, part of the Tuesday crew, has seen volunteerism serve as a catalyst for positive social change in his native country of India.
“As India progresses, there is a very concentrated effort to move away from the caste system,” Ghosh said. “One of the sources to remove it is to work as a group of volunteers. That is helping India’s society.”
Numerous organizations across the U.S. are working to make the Day of Service and Remembrance one of the largest displays of charitable service in the nation’s history.
By the numbers
Facts about the United Way of Bartholomew County:
in last year’s campaign
Current campaign goal
Funds available from
Lilly Endowment to match
donations of $50 or more
Amount raised at
Tuesday kickoff breakfast
Number of firms without
a United Way campaign
Number of Cabinet people
leading the campaign