There are days when time seems to swallow us whole. With work and family demands gobbling up each weekday and domestic chores making quick work of weekends, there is hardly enough time left to catch our collective breath, let alone socialize, exercise or think about others.
And yet, many of us have to admit that if we organized our time better, we would have more of it. And then we might be able to devote some of it to helping those for whom time is a dark and bleak space filled with homelessness, hunger or illness.
So how do we go about sharing our time? Who is the most needy? And what do they need most?
These are some of the questions free-lance writer Rachel Altman, the author of this week's cover story, asked herself when she decided it was her time to become a volunteer.
"I think what stops a lot of us from volunteering is that we think it is going to be depressing to face all these things like illness, poverty and death," she said. "In fact, what I found was the opposite, that the people I met were energized by the process of getting involved in their communities."
In the course of reporting her story, Altman talked to volunteers and coordinators who work with communities in need as well as people in need. She found folks all around our county shelving books in libraries, teaching adults to read, serving in hospices, stuffing envelopes and driving patients to the doctor.
"Volunteer coordinators all expressed a great need for any kind of help they can get from people," she said. "In most cases, need is expanding and money to provide services is shrinking and that's where volunteers come in."
Doing this story, Altman said, helped her see that getting involved in her community didn't need to be as taxing or complicated as she worried it would be.
"When I went with the photographer back to one of the centers, I met a volunteer who was serving food. She was cheerful and really seemed to enjoy the work," said Altman. "At one point she looked at me and said, 'I'll tell you why I come here. It feels very nice to put food in someone else's stomach. It is very direct. It is very simple. It is no big deal. It's just food.' "
Elsewhere in the section, a group of defense contractors met in Oxnard to get some recycling help from a national expert. What were they recycling? Themselves. More in the Earthwatch column.
And this week's Reluctant Novice, free-lancer Ken McAlpine, learns how to get on and fall off a jet ski.