Giving Back: The Winner is …

  Maybe there’s something to be said for almost dying.

  Or at least thinking you could be.

  Readers of my last column will recall that I inadvertently took two prescription  drugs recently that shouldn’t be taken together. I’m usually careful about checking drug interactions, but one of the two seemed so harmless that it didn’t occur to me to check until after the fact. You can imagine my reaction upon reading that possible reactions included “extreme sleepiness, slowed or difficult breathing, coma and death.”

  Obviously, I didn’t die that night or you wouldn’t be reading this. A Poison Control Center volunteer told me to try to stay awake for three hours – it was then close to 1 a.m. – and that my wife should get me to the nearest E.R. immediately if I fell asleep and couldn’t be wakened. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. I fell asleep, but an alarm clock and timer woke me repeatedly until the three hours were up and the risk had passed.

  Two good things came out of that night. One was a lesson learned. From now on I won’t take so much as an aspirin without checking interactions with other meds. It’s easy to do, only takes a few seconds and it can save your life. The drug interaction site if you’re interested – and you should be if you take or will be taking multiple prescription meds – is

  The other good thing that resulted from that night is a new way, for me at least, to do something useful.

  For those who missed the earlier column, an explanation:

  When you get a scare like that, one that conceivably could have been your last, it’s natural to want to make the most of the time you have left. You feel an obligation to do give something back, something to express your gratitude for not being six feet under. To that end, I asked readers for suggestions on ways to do that.

  Writers never know what will happen when they ask readers for suggestions. Sometimes the response is a resounding silence that makes you wish you hadn’t asked. Other times, the response is gratifying. This was one of those. Readers suggested oodles of volunteer opportunities. Here are some of them:

  Reader Nancy Viano suggested volunteering for What The Vote, which she and a friend began in 2018 as a non-partisan effort to encourage young people to participate in our democracy by registering, becoming informed and voting. To date, it has registered 7,200 of them. A worthy effort, and never more so than during the times in which we’re living. Its website is

   Ray Guindon didn’t have a suggestion, but offered condolences for “what you recently went through. Glad you had the presence of mind to realize something was wrong right away and were able to react to your situation immediately.

 “ … My wife is always trying to get me to volunteer at a hospital, like giving support to people with certain ailments, but with Covid out and about that’s probably not a good idea yet.”

  Point taken. The shelter where my wife and I volunteered pre-pandemic had us stop coming for that very reason.

  Selina Harris and Linda Hieb suggested working as a driver for Meals on Wheels, delivering meals to homebound seniors. Harris also suggested  volunteering at the Boise Rescue Mission or Big Brothers and Sisters.

  St. Vincent dePaul has a program to pick up people newly released from prison and help them with food, clothing vouchers, transportation and other essentials as they reenter society. Reader Mareesa Rule described voluteering for it as “an unforgettable experience.”

  Jeanne Huff, my Idaho Press editor, is a longtime volunteer for the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline, where she works a shift a week and has logged over 700 hours on the phones. Her email suggested the hotline and two other possibilities – the Women and Children’s Alliance and the Agency for New Americans,. 

  Jan King took the prize for offering the most suggestions:

  * Volunteering at shelters for battered women and families.

  * Helping volunteers at Nampa High School provide essentials for homeless teens.

  * Taking clothing, laundry soap and other necessities to Hope’s Door (a shelter in Caldwell), the Salvation Army Shelter and the Justice Center in Nampa.

  * Checking with schools about providing backpacks, school supplies, clothing and food packs for at-risk students.

  “Often the only meals some kids get daily are breakfast and lunch at school,” King wrote.

  Shauna Sanders encouraged me to check, which features literally dozens of volunteer opportunities. If you can’t find something that interests you there, you’re pretty picky.

  It was gratifying to receive such an enthusiastic response from readers, and to learn that there are more ways to volunteer locally than I dreamed possible. Scores if not hundreds of them.

  So which seemed like the right fit for yours truly? Picking one wasn’t easy, but the one that truly spoke to me came from Boisean Gene Dillner.

  “You asked for ideas on causes that allow you to give back to the community,” he wrote. “I’d like to recommend the Learning Lab of Boise. … With your career experience, you would be a perfect candidate as a tutor.”

  Dillner has worked as a tutor at the Learning Lab for over 20 years and says it’s “the only volunteer job that has never gotten boring or that I didn’t feel I got more from the experience than I gave.”

   The learning lab, according to its website, is “a literacy education center for low-income adults and families with young children. Instruction is individualized, based on students’ needs and goals. Adult students may work on basic skills including math, reading, writing, spelling, and, for many, English language learning.”

   That sounded like a good fit. The last thing anyone wants a right-brained person like me teaching is math, but reading, writing and spelling I could handle. And what more appropriate way for a writer to give back to the community than by teaching people to read?

  With that in mind, I called the lab, was told that there is always a need for volunteers there and that I’d be welcome to stop by and learn more about it. I’ll be doing that this week.

 I can’t think of many things more rewarding for someone in my line of work than teaching people to read, write and spell.

  And it definitely beats being six feet under.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

2 thoughts on “Giving Back: The Winner is …

  1. Tim,

    Another local institution that might need help is the Hope House in Marsing. They are a home for children that have little or no other options for support by family or government agencies.

    When I was still a member of a local antique car group, a friend and I would deliver bread to the Hope House which a local bakery donated.

    I don’t know if they need on site volunteers, but I’m sure they could use donations of all kinds. They have a website and can be contacted via that website:

    Kind regards,

    Craig McAllister


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s