Volunteers make Rebuilding Together the organization it is. We want to acknowledge our most outstanding volunteers with a spotlight, and to hear their thoughts and stories about what it means to them to volunteer with us. This month, we interviewed Vern Philips, a highly involved House Captain.
Note: The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Give us a few sentences about you!
I’m a semi-retired civil engineer, and have been working with Rebuilding [Together] for probably ten years now as a volunteer and House Captain, and really enjoy helping others. This is something that’s important to me in my life, as I was a peace corps volunteer when I was 19 years old, in Morocco and also Zaire. It’s been close to my heart to help other people, and something that I get a big charge out of.
What got you involved in RTEBN?
It was part of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group. [Another member of the group] was organizing for volunteers to help Rebuilding Together, but for one reason or another she was not able to continue, so I became the point person. We’d been involved in projects in our neighborhoods, basically. Which is another thing I like about Rebuilding Together – is that it’s for my community. It’s nice to be able to help neighbors, people that typically you may not even know, but now you get a new acquaintance and they appreciate the help that you give them. It’ll be a continued bond between us going forward. Which to me is kind of neat! I also volunteer with Habitat [for Humanity], and those projects can be two or three cities away from Berkeley or wherever it is. It’s a good experience as well but I really appreciate helping neighbors.
What is something unexpected that you’ve found out about yourself from volunteering?
A lot of the work is really hard, and it takes a lot of time. I have my own house – from my wife’s side, it’s like, I’m going to fix or replace a window for a home that needs one, while we have a window that we need to replace as well. [I’ve found] the priority is to help somebody else, and not do my own responsibilities – and that’s kind of an unexpected thing.
What do you look forward to when you’re volunteering on a project?
To me it’s not so much the work – and I’m thinking this more and more in my retirement and the things I’m doing now – it’s not so much the end product, whatever that might be, it’s the process. It’s having volunteers come and meeting them, and getting to know them and getting to know the neighbor and their story – it’s just that process, which is really good. I think it makes me and the volunteers and the homeowners have a new relationship now. They’re people that we didn’t know before, and now we have a better understanding of them and where they came from. It’s just a win-win for all parties involved with a project like that. And typically, a project will result in a nice new [product] for that homeowner – a new living space, or some improvement that they will appreciate long term. But those relationships, you’ll always remember those.
Some of the volunteers [I’ve recruited before] wanted to come to some other projects for Rebuilding. They really enjoyed that experience and came back. And they’ll come back again! I think that’s important – that they did see the importance, and get the pleasure, the same kind of pleasure that I get with helping someone.
Which brings us to my last question – what keeps you coming back over and over?
It’s that continued [relationship] – what I’d say is a win-win. And knock on wood, I haven’t had a real disappointing experience. [Even on a recent project that was cut short,] we did organize some folks to come over … and they feel like they contributed and they’re going to have a good feeling for Rebuilding Together. If they have a good experience with Rebuilding, then they’re going to want to volunteer at their church, or something else that could benefit the community.
It’s things like this that will help us break down these barriers between people, and have people understand they don’t need to fear everyone about everything – what we get bombarded with daily on the internet or wherever. There are some folks that actually do care and want to help, and don’t need anything in return. They get a lot in return, in their own spiritual makeup, let’s say!