Cultivating a Sense of Service Through Crisis
If you know Asheville Middle Eighth Grade Math Teacher Robert Ulmer then you won’t be surprised that he isn’t one to be afraid to step up to the microphone and sing words of encouragement when they’re needed most. In fact. Mr. Ulmer finds it one of his unique gifts that he was aware of early on. And he has readily put his talents to use as the motivational speaker of school announcements, for encouraging pep talks to AMS basketball players in the regional finals, as the facilitator at Homework Diners, and most recently in the community as a volunteer supporting MANNA FoodBank, helping to meet neighbors in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
Everybody Gains From It...
“Everybody does have different skills and talents and everybody needs help sometimes,” he shares. “If there are opportunities for me or any person to use their skills and talents to help their community, not only does the community benefit from it, but the person does too. It would be a lie to say that I don’t get something out of doing volunteer work. Whether I’m helping to clear a trail because I love being being in nature or being on stage because I like to make people laugh or tutoring because I like to help people learn-- these are all just versions of me deciding to use a skill that I have, doing a thing that I like to do, to support a need that people around me have, and so really everybody gains from it.’
Sometimes People Just Need a Little Help...
Mr. Ulmer learned the value of service early on as he recalls childhood years at his parents BBQ restaurant in Florida, serving a free Thanksgiving meal to community members in need before sitting down to their own. “Starting at 4 or 5 in the morning, the head cook and I would go in and we would make turkeys and ham,” he said. “Our family and families’ friends would come in and we would serve them in the store out of our own pocket, with our own friends as the servers, and with our own food.” He says that while he didn’t grow up wanting, he also didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and experiences like this taught him that sometimes people just need a little help.
A Sense of Service to One Another
As the spirited facilitator of Homework Diners at Asheville Middle School, Mr. Ulmer is consistently in the front of the room or walking around the cafeteria, encouraging students and bringing his full self to keep the energy focused and motivated. With volunteers checking students and families in, serving dinner, washing dishes, and acting as tutors to help students with their schoolwork, he says, “the teachers and nurses and a lot of people who are just work-a-day folk, truly volunteer far more than anybody likes to notice or admit. My friends and family, many of these same people, all share this sense of service to one another.” Mr. Ulmer hopes that the current COVID-19 crisis helps us to relearn and appreciate some of the things that our fast-paced culture has lost in some ways-- “attention to one another and to interpersonal relationships and in helping and forgiving-- that sort of thing. I hope we hold on to that and I hope it lasts longer than this isolation period.”
There are so many different ways to show up for your neighbors in this time. Explore volunteer needs we've been collecting from the community in response to COVID-19 by visiting our Hands On Asheville-Buncombe volunteer website and please feel free to reach out with any questions/concerns.
* On March 25, 2020, Buncombe County issued a "Stay Home-Stay Safe" declaration that provided additional guidelines residents should follow for COVID-19. Under this declaration, providing essential services such as access to food and other basic needs is still allowed. At this time, volunteers are still allowed to support these needs provided that social distancing guidelines are followed.