I’m literally obsessed with non-profits and service…apparently since I was a teenager

Apr 28, 2020 | Uncategorized

April 28, 2020 — Did April feel fast for you? After the drip-drip-drip surrealness of March and early April, until about Easter, things truly feel more swift now. Not quite like the lightning speed of the Old Normal, but DEFINITELY faster. And weirdly, I feel a little anxious about it. I have loved so many things about the slower life in the New Normal and I will fight to keep some of those things alive and fed in my schedule.

But we will have to fight for it. It’s a question of priorities. Conscious choices.

Today I want to share one of my passions that I haven’t written about much so far in this current blogosphere. I don’t know if that’s a word, but it feels right!

I have always, and am currently, drawn to the pure beauty of service and non-profits; basically, people helping people because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t have early memories of growing up in a highly service-focused family, except that my mom was an exceptional Brownie troop leader and I thought I was the luckiest thing in the whole world to have my MOM as my leader. Ah, little girls!

In high school, I was deeply involved in CYO, which is the Catholic version of youth group, initially because I was (and still am) a highly social creature. I recall that we held a church fund-raising pumpkin patch even every year and that I would spend most of my time there selling pumpkins, being with my CYO-buds, and never giving it a second thought about if that was the best use of my time. I loved it.

Also in high school, I remember volunteering to answer the phones for a teen suicide hotline. Or maybe college. How old would I have had to be?? That was an experience!

In college, I specifically remember spending a long month with a group of nuns in Greensboro, NC, who were wholly dedicated to the service of the community and ran a food pantry as well. I have a journal that I wrote in every day. (just now, upon consulting that journal, I realized it was only a week!)

It was just after my freshman year in college. (May, 1989, to be exact) After a brief skim of that journal, I spelled out in great detail how we helped out in so many venues: day care, thrift store, food pantry, home visits, and church office stuff, too. I was clearly impressed by the level of service in so many facets and equally saddened by the level of economically depressed people we encountered all day. I am so grateful that I still hold that little journal in my hands and have that window into my experience as a 19-year old young woman with a service heart in the making.

And then, after the “5-year plan” at UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heels!), foreign language degree in my hand, I was looking at the fork in the road as I was ready to start “Real Life”.

Choice 1: take a Spanish teaching position at Seawell Elementary School where I’d done my practicum, live in Chapel Hill, NC (a LOVELY place) and have a FINE life for however long I chose to stay in that job.


Choice 2: take advantage of the “unrooted” life and go DO SOMETHING…unusual, semi-scary, and awesome! I was scared to death of the adventure called “backpacking around Europe” nor could I afford that. So, instead, I ventured into a program called Volunteers for Educational and Social Services (VESS) which was basically like Teach for America and it was located in TEXAS! So, VOLUNTARILY, I spent a literal YEAR of my life, at ages 23-24, working as a volunteer elementary school teacher in Robstown, TX. My class totaled 13 students, a combo of 3rd and 4th graders, in a little Catholic school named St. Anthony’s. It was the hardest, best year of my life. (well, so far at that point of my life, anyway!)


Life lesson: it’s GOOD to do HARD things.

And those kids STILL have my heart, over 25 years later! I have found a few on social media, and wow, that was a trip! The called me “Miss Leary” as I was a “miss” at the time. A fresh-faced, take-on-the-world young woman from Raleigh, NC.

After that year, I settled in Austin and got a “real” job teaching Middle School Spanish at St. Stephen’s. Also hard, but in a totally different way.

My heart still sings the song of service, and supporting non-profits, because it’s clearly who I am. It’s who I have always been.

And that’s comforting to know.

(FYI this week I will be doing social media shout outs to local Austin non-profits)

Cheers! –ryan:)

PS As always, thanks for reading!

Ryan 🙂


My name is Ryan…

I love teaching people how to let go of the crazy and live a less stressful life. My book The CALM Method: A Guide to Ditch Last-Minute Living is full of guidance and tips for you, but the real magic is in our community. The Find FOCUS Membership is a great place to get more done alongside your peeps!!!

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