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  • Shelly Elliott

Time and Talents: Two Things We Should All Put to Use Outside the Classroom or Office


Time is a precious resource, each second a moment that we can never get back. How we spend our time is always our decision. Other factors, such as class or meeting times, extracurricular commitments, children’s or pet’s schedules, flights and travel may influence how we spend our time. However, each of us, as independent human beings with freewill can choose how to spend our time.

Similarly, I believe God created each of us with our own set of unique talents to share with the world. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to recognize those talents. Self-reflection has provided deep insight for me along the perpetual journey to self-discovery. But another experience that has provided opportunities for me to uncover my motivations, values, and priorities while simultaneously benefitting others is community service.

From the time I was a young girl, volunteering my time and talents has been a part of my life. From a young girl at the American Cancer Society stuffing envelopes to swimming with Special Olympians during high school to organizing STEM activities for Girl Scouts as an officer of Society of Women Engineers (SWE), these and other service opportunities have been incredibly influential on my life.

Speaking at my alma mater Bradford Area High

School last Friday.

I’ll be honest, I don’t quite recall why I first started volunteering when I was about eight years old at the American Cancer Society. It likely had something to do with our neighbor, Bea, who was like a grandma to me, volunteering there combined with my desire to work in an office like my Mom. As I got older, I started doing more in the community and became increasingly aware of this indescribable feeling in my heart after each activity. It was like food for my soul, and I felt so full of life, joy, and energy. Knowing that I could help someone else, someone I may or may not have known before that particular engagement, made me feel so connected to not only those other people, but also to my faith. My desire to help others emerged from within, and ultimately, was one of the reasons I wanted to study chemical engineering; I wanted to use the talents I had and expand on my knowledge in a way that could solve critical problems for society.

When I started my career, I took advantage of different volunteer opportunities ExxonMobil had to offer, including organizing our office’s Christmas giving tree, American Cancer Society Relay for Life team, and volunteering with the local schools. Though I was experiencing lots of change with moving to a new city and starting my first job, serving the community was a part of my college experience that naturally rolled into my professional life. In addition to all of the feelings I had felt volunteering growing up, I also felt a sense of pride associated with representing my company in the community.

Once I started working in operations roles where I was on-call 24/7, the time I dedicated to volunteering drastically dropped off. During my last two years with ExxonMobil, when I was working a demanding job where I was on-call 24/7, going to school full-time on the weekend for my MBA, and planning a wedding, I had cut out giving my time completely. I did, however, start donating more of my money to charity. In my mind, I was rationalizing not giving my time, talents, and energy to causes I deeply cared about by simply trading it for money. It was easier and more convenient to write a check or go online to make a donation. However, I never felt the same sense of satisfaction or connection with other people when I only gave money to a cause. Looking back, I was missing out, not only on a chance to impact and interact with others, but also to experience true joy, a joy I believe God shares with us as we serve one another.

1 Thesselonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Now, I understand non-profits rely on donor generosity to fund their efforts, and I am not making an argument to stop giving money to groups you so choose. Rather, I am encouraging you to give more than that in the form of your time and talents when you can. There is no time like the present to start, and for those who observe the Lenten season, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to rejuvenate our relationship with God, serving others can draw us closer to Him. My seasonal prayer book Lent, A Time of Grace with reflections from Pope Francis edited by Steve Mueller could not have said it better:

"So our task this Lent is to let ourserlves be touched by God’s grace, to be changes, and thus to become more like Christ so we can reach out to become benefactors to others by sharing our experience of God and Christ and the Holy Spirit at work in us."

I had two recent experiences lately that have reminded me how much more rewarding sharing these can be. The first involves an experience I had this Ash Wednesday. Scott and I joined St. Alophonsus Church in Wexford in January. In the weekly bulletin, we saw a promotion for the start of the annual Ash Wednesday and Lent Friday fish fry, the church’s largest fundraiser and the need for volunteers. Scott and I decided to volunteer for clean up. When we arrived, we were told, “Sorry, we are out of food!” When I explained that we were there to help clean up, the other volunteers, all middle-aged, stared at us for a few seconds in disbelief. Then, before we had even done anything, the main organizer began thanking us profusely for the help. He explained that they had lost some key senior volunteers this year, and that there wasn’t any “new blood” stepping up to the plate. He's been donating his time and talents to this effort for over 15 years, and it was obvious that it was an important part of his life and carried significant meaning for him. Knowing that we could help carry on the tradition was a warm feeling.

The second was last Friday when I spoke at my high school alma mater to two groups of students interested in engineering and looking for university and career advice. Seeing over sixty students with excitement gleaming in their eyes fully engaged and asking questions delivered a “Heaven on Earth” moment, where I once again, experienced joy. While I hope at least one student left the seminar with a better idea of what engineering is, I pray that my greater message to find your passion and pursue it with all of your heart resonated with everyone.

Similarly, I hope that what you are reading has inspired you to find a cause you want to donate your time and talents to. You don’t need to be an engineer, a female, an adult or any other label to do so. You just need to be you.

#service #talents #reflect #timemanagement

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© 2020 by Shelly Elliott.

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