“The most deadly poison of our time is indifference.” ~St. Maximilian Kolbe
This quote fascinated and perplexed me the moment I chanced upon it. I agree with the saint that the “not my problem” mentality is probably the most vicious problem we face as a society. Think about it: if every person chose to use his or her gifts and talents to the fullest and stopped ignoring the barrage of global challenges we face, many problems would be solved.
Even more fascinating than this quote is the man who issued it. So fascinating, in fact, that I was inspired to pick up a few books about his life and legacy. Maximilian Kolbe was not your average Catholic priest. He was a true champion of service who volunteered his time and talents up to the moment of his death in the infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz.
Life began for young Kolbe in a fiercely Catholic and patriotic Polish family. By all accounts, Kolbe was a bright child. He joined the priesthood and went on to achieve two doctorates, his first (in Philosophy) at age 21! He was a priest ahead of his time in many ways, as he obtained a printing press and started a local newspaper with his religious community he founded called “Niepokalanow” (which translates, “the city of Mary,” as in the mother of Jesus Christ, to whom the saint was greatly devoted). Maximilian Kolbe even spent time on a mission in Japan serving, teaching, and founding a religious community of Franciscans there.
Incredibly, Kolbe accomplished these feats while battling severe tuberculosis throughout his life. His work was often thwarted by his illness. Despite this, St. Maximilian was known for these key traits: loving without limits of race, religion, gender, etc., always smiling, being obedient, and above all possessing great humility. He “exerted himself enormously for human souls,” according to colleague Janina Kowalska. (A Man for Others, p. 39).
Unfortunately, World War II brought the Nazis to Niepokalanow, and Father Kolbe was picked up as a “dangerous person.” The Nazis persecuted the religious with intense brutality. Kolbe was eventually destined to don the striped outfit and bear the impossible conditions of Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz, survivors report that Kolbe calmed and comforted them, and frequently gave his portion of meager rations to others. A doctor in the camp, Rudolph Diem, recalled, “In view of the general animal instinct of self-preservation so evident in everyone else, his desire to sacrifice himself for others surprised and intrigued me” (p. 151). “He dispensed love and nothing but love” remarked one Jewish boy, revealing Kolbe’s ability to create fellowship with people from any background (p. 153). He brought rays of hope, but bore much affliction from age and his continuous lung disease.
Auschwitz had a rule: if one prisoner escaped, 10 of the 600 from the escapee’s block would be forced to endure a slow, painful death in the starvation bunker.
On July 31, 1941 a prisoner from Block 14, Kolbe’s Block, escaped.
The Nazi Kommandant chose 10 poor souls, and one, Francis Gajowniczek, cried aloud for his wife and children. Suddenly and unexpectedly, prisoner 16670 pushed through the lines of men and respectfully requested to take the man’s place. In perfect German, he addressed the cruel commander, who unbelievably consented.
Maximilian Kolbe’s good deed shone in the dark moment; he took the worst torture imaginable for a fellow prisoner he hardly even knew.
Interpreter Bruno Borgowiec, who was assigned to the starvation bunker, reported details from Kolbe’s brief experience. Singing and prayer could be heard from the underground bunker; even the SS admired his courage and strength.
Maximilian Kolbe was one of the last to die; in fact, he had to be injected with carbolic acid because he lasted so long. He died August 14, 1941.
Francis Gajowniczek survived and lived 54 more years. He told Maximilian Kolbe’s story all his life.
As the Catholic church made him a saint, Polish Cardinal Wyszynski stated, “Whereas people trust in material resources like tanks, planes, and armies, Kolbe shows that only one thing is necessary to gain peace and unity for the world, the practice of love” (182).
As one of the millions of victims of the holocaust, pervasive “indifference” proved fatal to Maximilian Kolbe. The apathy can be seen in our society today as well. Bottom line is, there’s so much more to life than school, work, social media. Aimless, mundane life is awful. Be the next Maximilian Kolbe; live with purpose and turn to service! Do something. Kolbe gave his life to the service of others, and in the end with compassion for a stranger. For what would you give your life?
What are you being indifferent to right now that you could change for good? Why do we honor suffering and sacrifice? What champion of service inspires you and why?
Royal, Robert. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History. New York: Crossroad, 2000. Print.
Treece, Patricia. A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz, in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Print.
On Friday November 13, 2015 Richter Center Ambassadors tabled for World Kindness Day at Fresno State. The goal was to inform students about World Kindness Day and to encourage them to do an act of kindness for someone— someone they love or even a stranger. Suggestions ranged from feeding a vending machine, thanking someone, or volunteering time at an organization. These acts of kindness can certainly make someone’s day as well as be rewarding to the person who does them. There are endless possibilities on what you can do for others, and a plus is that most do not involve spending money.
Although there are certain days in the year in which kind acts are done on a large scale, I encourage you to do a random act of kindness whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
Will you act on Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, 2016?
Community service and charity has the opportunity to create a positive, altruistic image for an individual or a business. Donating your own time to help others in need shows public-spirited character, demonstrates a willingness to change the community for the better, and allows an individual or business to give back to benefit the community. Sports organizations, in particular, strive to create this reputation and offer many different programs and groups catered to service. The NFL and NBA, two of the most popular sports in the United States, offer crowds of service opportunities and have numerous athletes who take the time to make the community a better place.
The NFL understands that contact football can be a dangerous sport and have been working with many different organizations to help raise awareness for player safety. One such organization is the NFL Player Care Foundation (PCF), an independent organization dedicated to helping retired players improve their quality of life. PCF addresses all aspects of life by providing programs and assistance with medical, emotional, financial, and social and community issues. Along with safety, the NFL also works with youth NFL groups including Pass, Punt, and Kick, NFL Flag Leagues, and USA Youth Football to teach the proper fundamentals of the game and encourages all young players to have fun playing in a competitive sports setting. The NFL has also set up NFL Play 60, which motivates children and teens to be active and play outside for at least 60 minutes per day. The NFL holds themselves to a high social responsibility for many issues as well: the NFL has teamed up to promote breast cancer awareness, dangers of driving under the influence, salute to service, and eco-friendly environmental acknowledgement.
One such player that embodies the service image of the NFL is Dallas Cowboy’s Tight End Jason Witten. Witten was the recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2012, which awards an NFL player for their outstanding levels of involvement with the community. Not only has he stayed true to the Cowboys as a premier tight end for more than a decade, attended more than seven Pro Bowls, and has held the team record for most receptions, but he has launched a charity foundation, battles domestic violence through funded programs, has created a learning center program for struggling youth, has been a spokesperson for youth fitness, and has also hosted football camps for the past decade for young athletes. Among all these community honors and awards, the man stays humble, doesn’t complain, is respectful in all interviews, and is all around a genuine and selfless individual. He puts others before himself; he plays the game of football with lots of heart, and is a respectful and likeable person.
In the NBA, the league has set up global outreach initiative that aims to address social issues. This season, in fact, as part of the 10th anniversary of its creation, NBA Cares is renewing its commitment to communities around the world by inspiring play and teaching basketball’s values to more than 15 million youth, providing an additional 3 million hours of service to others, and leaving a lasting legacy in communities by building 1,000 more safe places to live, learn or play by 2025. NBA Cares works with youth-serving programs that support education, family development, and health, including: Special Olympics, YMCA of the USA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, UNICEF, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Share Our Strength and GLSEN. Since 2005 when NBA Cares was launched, the league and teams have raised more than $260 million for charity, provided more than 3.3 million hours of hands-on service, and built more than 970 places where kids and families can live, learn or play in communities around the world.
Russell Westbrook, point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, is one such service role model in the NBA who has set up the Russell Westbrook Why Not? Foundation to inspire kids around the world and help teach them to never give up. This organization is dedicated to supporting community based education and family service programs while encouraging youth to believe in themselves. During the 2014-15 season, Westbrook along with his organization opened new reading centers called “Russell’s Reading Room” in three Oklahoma City public schools, providing 1,200 new books. Westbrook also presented a local Oklahoma City single mother of two children with the new Kia car he won as the 2015 All-Star Game MVP.
These organizations are set up to inspire individuals to create new experiences and develop new skills through volunteerism. Community service and charity has the power to give life satisfaction, create special relationships with the individuals within the community, and allows an individual to directly impact the status of a community. The NFL and NBA strive to create this noble and generous environment through the many community partners they sponsor. These sports organizations use the media attention to try and make the world a better place by inspiring viewers to get involved and to do their part in helping their local communities.
I encourage all who serve to reflect on why service is important to strengthening an individual’s foundation, but also to see how it can help shape a positive image for an individual or an organization. The Richter’s Center Ambassador’s mission is to create a positive perception of community service to encourage others to serve and to highlight the goodness that students and organizations achieve through helping others around the community.
How do you perceive community service?
It’s easy at times to go through life simply doing what you have to do. You develop a routine, and you live each day after another in function of your routine. So, in junior high, I did what I had to do to get good grades, then I did the same in high school in order to get into college, and then I got to college… What now? Do I work hard to get into graduate school? Maybe I’m working hard to get a nice job right after college? When does it stop? Something shifted once I got here.
I don’t know if it is because for the first time, I felt like I was the one in charge of making my own decisions, or if maybe I looked forward to starting fresh, a new story with new people. Either way, I embraced this new beginning.
As a freshman, I was surrounded with opportunities to become involved on campus, but it wasn’t until I heard Daniel Ward give a presentation about a program he was involved in that I truly became enticed. The Richter Center Ambassadors are champions of service on this campus. It attracts students of all majors and backgrounds with a single passion: service. When I heard about it, I could not think of a better way to spend my time at Fresno State.
My first year as an Ambassador, I learned so much. I was surrounded by students who had been in this role for two or three years and as I grew more comfortable, I shared ideas of my own. I remember I was so nervous making my first presentation at the Continuums of Service (COS) conference, and I relied heavily on my peers. In my second year, I grew very close to the group of Ambassadors, and we chose new activities to do on our campus. I became a Campus Compact Fellow, so I could continue expanding the role of the Ambassador program. Now, in my third year, I see a new group of students with new ideas and energy to reach our campus.
I guess, it is possible to quantify the work that I have been a part of these past few years, but, to be honest, there really isn’t a good measuring tool that can demonstrate the effect this program has had on me. If it wasn’t for it, I would not have become involved with Camp Kesem Fresno State, which has been a source of some of my biggest accomplishments. I would not have gotten to really know people who have made such a strong impact in my life – people who model service in their daily lives.
The Richter Center became a home in this large campus, and the Richter Center Student Leaders became my family — the kind where we can go bowling together and then have some fro-yo late at night while we talk about life. These are people who taught me how to not just do my daily routine but instead make it a habit to go out of my way for someone else.
I am so grateful for my involvement with the Richter Center and the Ambassador group. I could not imagine going through college without them. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity you’ve given me!
I cannot find a better quote to describe the struggles that some, if not all, of us go through. Fear of the new. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of presenting. Taking every chance and opportunity that is presented to us could be scary at first, but what we do not realize is how those opportunities change us.
Take a moment and think back to when you did something you were scared of, or did not really want to do. How did you feel after you accomplished it?
Most of the time, if not all, we feel proud and accomplished. We did something that perhaps at first we did not want to or something that we feared. It could have been anything, from giving a presentation to finding a new place to volunteer. The fears that make us get out of our comfort zones are sometimes the ones from which we grow most. We discover new strengths, we discover our weaknesses, and we discover a new perspective.
Someone once told me to take a leap of faith. At first I did not quite understand and I did not know how. Now, I am telling you to take a leap of faith. I stopped finding excuses why I could not do something, and I can tell you I have grown so much from taking that leap of faith. Besides the growth, I know I am able to give much more. My life was not only transformed, but now, I can pay that forward.
So, what about you? What experiences have you had? What did you learn from those experiences?
Do you know someone that loves to volunteer and should be recognized? Well, you are in luck! The Richter Center is now accepting nominations for the Volunteer of the Year award. This award is given to Fresno State students who have volunteered their time and efforts to better the community. Anyone can be nominated! Whether you are nominating someone else, yourself, or being nominated you can simply fill out this application. The applications are due to the Richter Center by Wednesday, March 25, 2015 before 5 p.m.
This is an awesome way to highlight the students of Fresno State that are committed to service. Moreover, it is a reminder to continue to serve. It is getting towards the end of the year where everyone is busy with midterms and sometimes we get so caught up in our work that we don’t take a break. Don’t get burnt out! Try to get out and volunteer instead. It doesn’t matter how long, it still makes a difference. Don’t forget that if you are ever looking for a service activity, the Richter Center provides an endless amount of opportunities! Come by and check us out if you have any questions. We’re in the Thomas building room 107, or call us at 559-278-7079.
Who will you nominate and why? Have you ever volunteered recently? Where is your favorite place to volunteer?
This post is different from some of the ones I’ve have done in the past. Today, I’m sharing an interview with one of my peers in the Richter Center Student Leadership (RCSL) team. Hannah Poore has been a part of RCSL group for one year where she has been a member of the SERVE Committee. Here is a little insight into her sweet journey with us. Thanks, Hannah, for contributing your story to our blog!
What’s your major and career goal?
My major is Mass Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations, and I’m minoring in Sociology. My career goal is to do public relations for a socially-minded company whose cause I love and support and want to spread the word of!
What role do you play in RCSL?
For the SERVE Committee, I’m on the Public Relations and Marketing Committee. I create content for social media, help to make flyers advertising our one-day service events, and spread the word about our service events to media sources like the Bulldog Blog and the Collegian in order to make volunteers aware of the opportunity.
How did you hear about this group?
I heard about RCSL in [a class], from [RCSL members]. Specifically, Alexi Kimura encouraged me to attend a Richter Center Ice Cream Social at the end of my freshman year, and when I met the RCSL team there, I knew I wanted to join and work with them on their awesome service events.
What has been your favorite part about being part of this team?
My favorite part about being on this team has been getting to know the girls! I look forward to our weekly meetings, and I’ve made some really special friendships through RCSL. Yay!
I joined this team because I’m passionate about service and making the world a better place, and all of you (SERVE, Richter Center in general) are too! It’s amazing! I love being around such positive and helpful people! It is so refreshing, and it’s wonderful to see our team’s work paying off at service events. I also love spreading the joy of service to others, like volunteers who attend our service events or people I talk to at tabling events, because it really is such a source of joy in my life, that I want others to know about it!
Have you considered being a part of the Richter Center Student Leadership group? If you want more information, please contact us email@example.com.
In the past year, I have been volunteering at the Fresno Rescue Mission serving meals to the less fortunate. My experience at the Fresno Rescue Mission has been wholesome, and more recently, it has been an unforgettable one. Not long ago, a member of the organization going through the rehabilitation program asked me, “Why do you volunteer?” My explanation should have been simple, but I struggled to express the answer in the correct words because there were no words to explain the feelings and emotions I felt when I volunteered. I thought to myself, “I enjoy helping others because it is a rewarding experience, to be a part of something beyond simply serving food to one individual.” I am that one small push towards change for the better because “even the smallest person can change the course for the future” (J.R.R. Tolkien). It has been inspirational to see multiple people in the program grow as individuals from when they entered to when they finished. Being a part of that initial change has been a reward in itself.
A large percentage of families in Fresno live in poverty, and Fresno is known to hold one of the largest populations of homeless people. Although Fresno is ranked among the top cities to be the most impoverished in the nation, many people are unaware of the growing problems or disregard the existence of poverty and homelessness. Unfortunately, it is difficult to help families move above the poverty line; however, I believe that we can try and improve the current conditions that we are faced with. People who have never witnessed homelessness often have difficulties comprehending the reality and the struggles homeless people face. I cannot say that I have experienced a similar situation, but being exposed to it has helped me become more thankful and more willing to extend a helping hand to the community.
So, why do I volunteer? When I volunteer I feel selfless and it takes me away from my busy schedule. Although I always seem to be stressed-out with school, volunteering has been a stress-reliever. By volunteering at the Fresno Rescue Mission, I learned more about the Fresno community, gained communication skills, and met amazing people. It makes me so joyful knowing that a simple gesture such as serving a meal can make an impact, more than I realized. It is the small things in life that make all of the difference. I guess what I am trying to say is that I volunteer because I believe at some point everyone is in need of help, and if I am capable of being a part of the help, I will do what I can to be of assistance.
Consider serving-a-meal with me, it is a simple application and orientation. Think about what you can do to help others and what impact you can make in the community. What will you do today to make your community a better place? How has service impacted your life? How has service been rewarding for you? But, most of all: WHY DO YOU VOLUNTEER?