By Nancy Long, executive director of 501 Commons
The Washington nonprofit sector recently lost the kind of leader that is at the heart of our sector. Donnie Chin was murdered on the streets of the community he loved and served for 45 years.
Chin directed the International District Emergency Center. Both Donnie and trained emergency service officers provided first aid and responded, 24 hours a day, to emergency situations. Community leaders reported that his quick response to medical emergencies saved hundreds of lives.
The fire department mourned the senseless loss of their partner. A first responder who knew Donnie told the Seattle Times: “He was so helpful and cherished by all of us (fire and police) because he knew Chinatown like the back of his hand.”
Donnie’s life of service speaks to the basic desire that brings so many of us to our field. We are wired to seek and build community. We literally see the “inescapable network of mutuality” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to, and we are drawn to strengthen that web between people.
This work is not without sacrifice and risk, as Chin’s death reminds us. Nonprofit staff and volunteers give up financial gains, time with family, and retirement security. They put themselves on the line in stressful and dangerous situations day by day.
To do this work you have to have a strong sense of purpose and stamina. John Gardner, an elder of the nonprofit sector, said this in “Self Renewal:"
"We need to believe in ourselves, but not to believe that life is easy….the future is shaped by men and women with a steady, even zestful, confidence that on balance their efforts will not have been in vain….Some combination of hope, vitality and indomitability makes them willing to bet their lives on ventures of unknown outcome...”
“Second, I would emphasize staying power. Stamina is an attribute rarely celebrated by the poets, but it has had a good deal to do with the history of humankind….Nothing is ever finally safe. We need a hard-bitten morale that enables us to face these truths and still strive with every ounce of our energy to prevail...."
The nonprofit sector is not a place for people who want to play it safe. Or those seeking to dabble comfortably at the edges of a problem in order to prove their own goodness. Human history, despite all the wars, prejudice, and greed is steadily strengthening that “network of mutuality.”
People who volunteer and work in the nonprofit sector are willing to break with the past, challenge power in all its subtle forms, trade balance for meaning, and quietly, day by day, put themselves on the line for others. This is not charity work. It is the force in the universe that steers us toward justice.
Photo courtesy of Han Eckelberg, via International Examiner.