The joy of giving back
Some people spend retirement travelling, relaxing and playing golf; Richard Lee is spending his golden years stamping envelopes and lifting boxes.
The 66-year-old spends almost every day volunteering at cancer charity Pals.
“I’ve become a piece of the furniture,” he laughed.
However, the staff do not think that way at all; they see him as an integral part of the Pals family.
Pals executive director Colleen English DeGrilla said: “Volunteers are always an asset, but there are some volunteers who just go above and beyond.”
Last month, at the Centre on Philanthropy Volunteer Reception 2018, he was honoured for his devotion to Pals, along with 69 other volunteers from 50 charities.
“It was nice,” Mr Lee said. “I was amazed to see how many charities were represented.”
He does not consider his work at Pals to be a sacrifice.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I just enjoy it. I like to do something for the community. I think we should all help the community, but a lot of people are too committed with work and family life.”
He started helping Pals several years ago while working in credit risk management at Butterfield Bank.
At the Pals Christmas Fair at Christ Anglican Church in Devonshire, he asked then Pals executive director Ann Smith Gordon if she needed help.
He was looking for a way to help after losing several loved ones to cancer, including his best fishing buddy, Keith Winter, in 2009.
“It’s terrible to watch someone go from healthy to sicker and sicker,” Mr Lee said.
Ms Smith Gordon was happy to take him up on his offer. The next year, he scheduled a vacation day on the Friday before the fair to help her set up. He did that for a few years, until he left the bank in 2014, and was able to devote more time to Pals.
Since Pals opened their thrift shop on the lower level of their Point Finger Road facility in March, much of his energy has been focused there.
Donations of clothing, kitchenware and other items are often left outside Pals in the evenings, and it is Mr Lee’s job to help sort everything in the morning.
Often, this starts out as more of a clean-up operation.
“Unfortunately, if you leave things outside, people come pilfering through and throw it all over the place,” Mr Lee said. “Someone e-mailed the other day saying they dropped off a bunch of stuff on Wednesday night and on Thursday morning came to drop off more. Half of the stuff they’d left was already gone by morning.”
It is disappointing to the charity because funds from the shop help them provide nursing care to cancer patients in the community. It is also unnecessary because certain items are often given away free, while the store is open, and if someone desperately requires something, Pals will help them out.
Mr Lee loves working in the shop and seeing customers’ smiles when they find a bargain. There are some treasures to be found.
“Sometimes you get some costly stuff you wouldn’t think people would turn in, like sterling silver, a Coach bag, or a Marc Jacobs dress,” he said.
“It is good to see stuff going back in the community.”
He does not do much work directly with cancer patients.
“It is sad to see the cancer patients coming here, but it is good to see them going out with a big smile knowing they will get daily care when we can help them,” he said.
“Nurses are basically on 24-hour call. We have five nurses that take care of the whole island. A lot of people can not afford expensive prices, so most of our care is free.
“It is not an easy job, but we are here to help them as much as we can and make them as comfortable as we can. Some people will get over it and bounce right back, and unfortunately some don’t bounce back.”
One of his inspirations is his mother, Mary Morris. For nine years she volunteered at thrift store, The Barn in Devonshire, and he would help her.
“I didn’t mind,” he said. “You have to help each other.”
He now uses a lot of what he learnt watching her work, at Pals’ thrift shop. “Pals is a good place to be,” he said. “We all have fun together. It’s like anything, you get out what you put into it, and I put my heart into it, and love the people. It reminds me of working at the bank. After awhile you get to know everyone.”
Pals is not his only volunteer project. He also helps out at the annual Bermuda National Trust Auction and Jumble Sale in March, and provides an elderly friend with transportation once a week.
“I like helping anyone who needs it,” he said. “We are here on this earth only once, so let’s treat people the best way we can.”
Ms English DeGrilla said Pals was looking for more volunteers, particularly to help in the thrift store.
“We don’t get a lot of men,” she said. “We have a few male drivers. We need more. Mr Lee can’t always be the one to do the lifting.”
• For more information, visit pals.bm, call 236-7257 or e-mail email@example.com
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