It has been 10 years since I retired as editor of the Bellevue Herald-Leader, the fastest decade of my life. That first week when deadline came and went and I did not have to worry about getting the paper out was like being shot at, and they missed!

I lived in a fool’s paradise for those first weeks and months. Brenda retired from her career at the lab at Jackson County Regional Health Center and we finally had the time together we thought would never happen and we liked each other’s company.

We took a tour through New England and went on a 4,000-mile train trip across Canada and the northern tier of states.

There was plenty to stay busy on the farm. Fences needed rebuilding, I worked at timber-stand improvement up in the woodlot and rebuilt the stairway and several rooms in the house.

We bought a house in Washington, plan “B” in our minds for the day when we were in the old age of old age. The house allowed us to live part of the year within walking distance of the rest of our family.

We found good friends to be social with and we like our neighbors. There was something missing, though. I missed the people I had worked with, some for over 30 years. I missed being needed frankly and having people wonder what I thought about an issue. 

I tried to be involved in the community while I was at the newspaper, but it was always at arm’s length simply because there was never enough time to devote to a particular cause for very long before another needed the newspaper’s public forum. 

Bellevue, and really every community we covered, is notable for a core of people who volunteer in so many capacities — men and women who turn out on bitter winter nights to save your home from burning or care for you in your most terrifying moments after an accident or health emergency. 

The need and opportunity for volunteering is everywhere and it is critical in our rural county. There is no summer youth activity program without you. There is no community celebration or summer church youth program without you.

New to the community? There is no better way to become a regular than by volunteering. It’s not rocket science. A shared experience is what brings us together. 

This winter marks the seventh year for me working at the local food bank out here in Chehalis, Washington. I help load and unload trucks, fill food boxes, load groceries into cars and trucks, and meet people I’d never otherwise get to know. In exchange for my donated labor I get a glimpse of how people piece together a life and keep their family afloat.

This past year I began volunteering at the local hospital in Centralia, Washington. One day a week I am that friendly face you see when you’re trying to find the radiology department or outpatient lab. With my blue vest and ID badge I am how you first interact with Providence Hospital. Scary isn’t it?

The first week or so I was tempted to leave Reese’s Pieces along the hallways so I could find my way back to my station. In fact, I had a hospital visitor actually help me find my way back to the main lobby. It got better.

There have been moments. I sat with a woman who was proud to show me her new prosthetic lower leg she bought on eBay. There was the 80-year-old retired logger who made sure there was enough firewood around for his wife of 62 years before he made the long drive in for lab work ordered by his doctor.

The fact that I am even volunteering at that hospital is because someone else, in my case a compassionate nurse, showed concern when I was a patient at Providence.

Volunteering is not a day at the beach with a musical background. In truth, what I do is of little consequence, but it is vitally important that I do it, if that makes sense.

People talk about the hidden value of the recreational drug economy. It would astound you if you knew the exact value of volunteered services just in Jackson County. Simply put, you could not afford to be without the contribution volunteers make across the community.

Nationally, the charitable umbrella organization Independent Sector estimates the value of volunteer service to the United States is $203 billion.

The non-profit  estimates the value of an hour of volunteer time on the job is worth $25.43.

There is room for you at this table, trust me.