I am a true believer that we have a moral obligation to help one another, and my faith and family instilled a sense of service in me from a young age. Growing up in church and being active in clubs provided many opportunities to help those in need. I greatly enjoyed the time I spent as a child serving meals at the local soup kitchen, helping elderly neighbors or simply picking up litter.
After attending college and pursuing a career in graphic design, I found myself constantly being asked or offered to assist friends, family, and organizations with pro bono design work. Some of these requests came from people I didn’t know, yet I always felt an obligation to help when someone asked. In the back of my mind, I always hoped that many of these pro bono projects would one day lead to paying work. After all, referrals are a great way to bring in new clients. I married my wife within a year of graduating college, and our work schedules allowed me plenty of time to take on some extra design work without it getting in the way of things we wanted to do together. All was well and I never felt overwhelmed.
The Big Ask
A little over 15 years ago a childhood friend asked me to design a logo for a non-profit children’s medical organization he had started called To Give A Smile (TGAS). Knowing his mission, I offered to do the work at no cost. A few years later he reached out again and asked if my wife and I would be interested in going on a mission trip with him to Peru to set up a temporary children’s clinic. Seeing an opportunity to do some good and have an adventure, we couldn’t say no. At this point, the organization was young and I was asked to serve on the board. As the organization grew I continued to design all of the needed materials. This work ranged from designing a website, brochures, newsletters, social graphics, t-shirts, banners, informational pamphlets in multiple languages and many other things.
Currently I serve as the vice president of TGAS and my wife is the Ohio Chapter director. TGAS currently has 5 chapters nationwide, and hundreds of volunteers doing hospital outreaches, Ronald McDonald House meals, and providing medical care internationally.
I’m truly passionate about the work we do and it has been fantastic watching this organization grow to what it is today. There is nothing like bringing a smile to a hospitalized child’s face. Those smiles make the countless volunteer hours worth every second.
Adding Some Excitement
In mid 2016, my wife and I moved from the Dayton area back to our hometown in northwest Ohio and built a home. After settling in and finding myself somewhat bored with the monotony of working from home 24/7, I decided to join the volunteer fire department. While getting behind the wheel of a firetruck or rescue squad does add a little excitement to my days, responding to emergencies, station responsibilities and even more donated design work sucks up hours every week.
Now in my late 30s with 3 children, I have my own company, AuraFlux Creative, and I’m part of the CreativeFuse team. I’m still heavily involved in TGAS, the fire department, church, Cub Scouts, our local school and my children’s athletics. There are only so many hours in a week and the weeks seem to fly by. Time seems to be the one thing I can never get a handle on. I’m constantly trying to balance family time, work, volunteer obligations, chores and home improvement projects. I was falling behind on billable design work while trying to meet the demands of volunteer obligations. I’m ashamed to say I had a couple projects get away from me and damage client relationships.
I was spending what little free time I had at my desk just trying to catch up. It killed me to be tied to my desk while listening to my family go about their evenings without me. I found myself constantly stressed and unable to enjoy any down time. Regrettably, the slightest inconvenience or delay in my day would cause me to lash out at my wife or kids.
This last fall, while mowing the yard, I was listening to the book The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again by Catherine Price. In part of the book she discusses focusing on volunteer work that we truly enjoy instead of taking on every volunteer opportunity that comes our way. The book also discusses how spontaneity is a major factor in what most people consider fun. It really got me thinking about how almost all of my weeknights and weekends are filled with obligations and I have very little room for spontaneous fun. There is always something that needs done or somewhere I need to be.
Recently I have turned down a few pro-bono design projects and a few community leadership opportunities. Simply explaining that I don’t currently have the bandwidth seems to be enough to politely say NO. I may pursue some of these opportunities down the road but, now is not the time.
I’m focusing on my work with TGAS and learning to let go of some control. As the only graphic designer and one of the earliest members I have been able to shape the TGAS brand since the beginning. Making almost all design decisions myself and wanting to maintain a consistent brand lead me to want to control all design work. My email inbox started to back up with design requests from my team and some projects were taking months to complete. My control was creating a bottleneck that was slowing the organization down. We had been looking for another designer/marketing coordinator for a few years but the right person never came along. We are pleased to say we have a fully volunteer team and have no paid positions. This is great at helping us use the overwhelming majority of our budget for outreaches but is a real limiting factor when looking for new team members with specific skills.
This last summer we finally found another designer who was willing to come on as our marketing coordinator. I had designed the To Give A Smile website back in 2014 and some of the backend functionality had started to degrade so it was time to start over. I didn’t have the time to tackle a completely new website so I reluctantly handed it off to our new marketing coordinator. I was involved in the entire process and made recommendations, however there were times I had to bite my tongue. I knew that I didn’t have the time to do it so I needed to let go and not critique every design choice. My wife can attest to the fact that I have trouble keeping my thoughts to myself. Our new website is up and running and is working just fine. Although there are things I would have done differently I’m incredibly thankful to have someone else on the team to assist with design work and keeping everything on track for the benefit of our team, our mission and myself. Letting go can be difficult when we have so much of our time invested in something.
As for the fire department, I have been trying to cut down on the amount of time I’m pulled away from my desk for non-emergency issues during the day. Although structure fires and motor vehicle accidents require all hands on deck, I have also decided that I don’t need to make every EMS call when we have enough staff to cover a situation. This has allowed me to spend more time with my family and block out time to complete projects more efficiently. Some in the fire service will disagree with my decision but it is the right one for me at this time. I can honestly say serving my community as a firefighter/EMR has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I do encourage everyone to get involved in some kind of volunteer work they are passionate about. Volunteering is a great way to give back, gain experience and meet people outside of our normal channels. That said, we should never be afraid to turn down opportunities that don’t interest us or allow ourselves to be taken advantage of.
It can be refreshing to find a way to volunteer in a way that forces us to develop new skills or interact with our world in a different way. This can spark new interests and add some real spice to life.
I still have a long way to go but the small changes I have made so far have helped me stay focused on my family, our financial goals and my true passions. Finding balance and knowing when to let go is sometimes the only way to move forward.