Pay it forward

Over a month ago, I helped a veteran who had zero computer skills. He was coming to the library because when he tried to get help from the VA to get a job or go to school, they merely gave him a webpage to visit and sent him packing.

Focus on helping others to stay calm in the library.

Focus on helping others to stay calm in the library.

I showed him how to use a mouse and some tricks on the keyboard (for example, tabbing to get to the next box in a form, which was useful for him since his mouse skills were poor). I helped him register through the VA website, though only in as much as he needed explanation of what an email was or why the form wouldn’t let him continue (he was missing required information). I showed him how to set up an email and made sure he wrote down usernames and passwords for each thing he set up. Over the course of helping him I learned some interesting things: He loved his country. He refused to take unemployment so he was now living in his car. He couldn’t believe how fast I typed (and I actually don’t type very fast). He loved funnel cake because it reminded him of county fairs (me, too!). And he was so grateful that he had walked into the library that day. He stayed until closing, being careful to leave 10 minutes before our doors closed so he wouldn’t keep us all late. As he left, he offered me his sincere gratitude and I told him to come back any time if he needed more help. He told me he hoped I would be there when he returned, but I assured him that any of the people who sat at the reference desk would be more than willing to help him, even if he came on a day I was off. While I expected to see him again, I also thought it might be just as plausible if I didn’t.

A month goes by and I mostly forget the gentleman. I’ve found that tends to happen working in a public library that so many people move through. On my Monday night shift this week, I took my break an hour later than normal. It turns out it was lucky I did, because my veteran friend hurried in when I normally would have been hiding in the break room and beamed at me. “Remember me?” Of course I did, even if it took a moment for the circumstances to swim up to the surface of my memory. It turns out that he had been able to return once since our initial session and had been able to apply for and get accepted into technical training school, which was paid for by the company who would employ him upon graduation. It was on a night I wasn’t working, but one of my coworkers had helped him with the applications and even made some copies for him, even though he didn’t have any money that day. A month after promising to pay him back, my veteran friend had returned triumphant. He insisted on paying us the 40 cents, despite my insistence that it wasn’t necessary. Then he smiled and said he always kept his promises and the money couldn’t even come close to paying his true debt to us. I accepted a five-dollar bill from him and while I was scrambling for change (which we don’t actually keep at the desk) he told me to give the change to somebody else who needed our help. “They need your help more than I do right now.” And then he smiled, shook my hand, and merrily bounced down the stairs.

So there you have it: My very own Pay it Forward moment. The money ended up helping several other individuals print out resumes for their own job searches. I must admit that sometimes it can be challenging to keep smiling when a patron is being difficult. But to be honest, experiences with the people like this veteran so outshine the rest that I can do nothing but smile.

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