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Josh-ACEing Autism

It was December 26, 2008, the day after Christmas, and I was living in Providence. Thinking back to childhood visits to Boston, I recalled that palpable sense of awe as I stood in the shadows of the giant gleaming skyscrapers, learned about Harvard and MIT, and soaked in the fervent passion of fellow Red Sox fans. “That’s it,” I said to myself, “I’m moving to Boston.”

Once there, I sought to find an outlet to share my gifts and talents with the larger community. “Shouldn’t be too difficult,” I figured. “It’s a city after all.” Yet in a short span of time, I discovered that few volunteer opportunities existed and the ones that did conflicted with my very busy schedule.

“What if I could create a group that allowed busy people to plug into service opportunities in such a way that it simply required them to show up and help? And what if this no hassle, no commitment approach also connected like-minded folks together to meet, support each other, and work side by side?

Mustering up some courage, I told a friend about my idea. She laughed, deemed it crazy, and thought it all very unnecessary. At this point, however, my can-do spirit couldn’t be stifled. The next day www.BostonVolunteer.org went live. “No sense waiting until the New Year,” I figured. “Decide and do.”

I was unprepared for what happened next. Sure, I’d invited people to our first Meetup, but I had no idea if anyone would come. After arriving at the Coolidge Corner Panera, I found a nice spot by the window, off to the side. I nervously pulled a few chairs around my table and waited, hoping a few folks would show up. Thankfully, a few did show up. Then a few more arrived. And then a few more. In a matter of minutes, almost 50 people crowded into the front room. The poor managers had a fit!

Being shy, timid, and never wanting drawing attention to myself, we had created quite a scene! Here I was, surrounded by a mob of people looking to me for direction! These folks – most who were older than I – were energized and ready to do something. I said the only I could think of: “Let’s introduce ourselves and get to know each other!

”One by one, people shared powerful stories of making a difference in other peoples’ lives. “You need to discover how it feels,” said a young woman named Monica. “That’s what I tell my friends who have never volunteered.” And that is what Monica did with group after community volunteer celebrations that she led with us. She created a community to help people discover and experience the joy and profound meaning that comes from helping other people. In the last four years I have had the pleasure of meeting many people just like her.

That night, as I made my way home, I tried to come to grips with what had just happened. “Maybe it’s not so much that we are creating something groundbreaking,” I wondered, “and more that just we are tapping into a deeply felt need and removing the obstacles that usually prevent this can-do spirit.”

Having organized and run over 500 volunteer events, we have learned a lot. With more than 4,000 people joining in only three years, standing ready to volunteer, we now have need for a larger support system if we are going to take full advantage of the energy, desire and willingness our volunteers exhibit. Sure, we have come a long way from that first Meetup at Panera almost four years ago, but we have never once veered from the original credo. With a newly gathered Board of Directors, drawn from a variety of local communities and committed to furthering what has been started, we will be better able to harness this opportunity and help even more people in need.

I have always believed in better. That’s just how I am. And if you do too, then I invite you to join me in making the ‘better’ happen. “Decide and do,” is what I told myself that day, and I am glad I did. Let’s join together and work to make ‘better’ a reality for those who need it most. Thank you for your belief in better.

– Josh Konoff, Entrepreneur, the Boston Volunteers

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