“When we were growing up, we didn’t volunteer because we had to get hours in for our school. We volunteered because it’s just what you did,” says Gail Couchman of MetroWest.
Growing up in a home without many resources, Gail’s grandfather left a big impression on her little heart at an early age. Her beloved grandpa, even with very little to his name, made it a point to give to a neighboring family with eight kids and even less to their name. “We had a garden, and I can remember bringing bucket loads of fresh veggies over to this woman,” Gail recalls. He didn’t stop there either. He employed the family to help with their laundry, though their family struggled as well, and often bought groceries for them when he could.
Passing the Philanthropic Torch
Fast-forward to present day; to Gail, her husband Richard, and their three children. With intent to instill the same sense of service to others, Gail, Richard and their children spent her their childhood volunteering as well. “Whether it’s a big thing like giving water at the annual MS Bike race or simply picking up a piece of trash on the side of the road, the point is still the same: Helping others is important.”
Gail’s children – Monica, 21, Alex, 18, and Madison, 17 – are now nearly grown themselves, but even as young adults, the Couchman family still makes it a point to serve the community together. “As a mom, I’m always looking for quality time with my kids. Volunteering presents opportunities for quality time as they grow up.”
Being civic-minded, Gail chose to introduce family philanthropy to her children at an early age. All three kids grew up heavily involved in Girl and Boy Scouts, an organization trademarked with a focus on community service. Monica and Madison offered their time, often rubbing elbows with Mom, preparing meals for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, or mentoring younger Girl Scouts at meetings and campouts. Alex was heavily involved in the Boy Scout community, earning his Eagle Scout in 2013 by building a 580-foot walking path at Mah-Kah-Wee, Girl Scout of Citrus Council’s primary campground. Together, the family helps with various Scout events each year, including parking cars at Red, Hot and Boom.
The Value in Volunteering
The value placed on volunteerism is apparent when you look at how the family spends their free time. It’s just as likely you’d spy the Couchman family serving somewhere together as perhaps shopping or at the movies over the weekend. Richard and Alex spend the year training together for the 150+-mile MS Bike Ride. During the event Gail and her daughters support the cause, and the guys in their family, by cheering the racers and handing out snacks and water at the finish line.
To see the family in action, it’s clear Gail’s daughters truly enjoy serving alongside their mom. “I like that I get to have quality time with my mom and we can relax together (after we’ve helped out),” Madison remarks about the fun she has with Gail.
If visions of juggling your own children, while handing out hamburgers at the local food kitchen, make you palpitate with anxiety, Gail offers a bit of advice. “Choose an activity that has something age-appropriate to engage every family member.” She also suggests being mindful of time constraints by choosing shifts that work well for all family members.
Gail is passionate about the importance of showing her kids that, even though they may not have everything they want, there are others out there that can still use their help. She wants her children to see that helping others is important. Not simply because she and her husband say it is, but because they see and feel the results when they’ve helped someone. The Couchmans know it takes more than talking the talk. This is precisely why they roll up their sleeves and walk the walk right beside their kids.
Reasons for Giving Back
One may think asking a teen to help others equates to pulling good teeth, but that doesn’t have to be the case: “It’s nice to help others. I like being able to see a child smile when I give her a high five or the feeling I get when I know I’ve brightened someone’s day by sending a Christmas card to a soldier overseas. It’s pretty cool,” says Madison, a senior at Olympia High School.
Pulling the societal recognition out of the equation allows the Couchman family to focus on the real importance behind their actions. Whereas those volunteer hours are often required, she’s made it a point to talk to her kids about the real value in their volunteerism. She feels that credit hours, Scout badges, and recognition certificates are nice, but we are all on this planet and it’s important to help each other.
From big to small projects – Scouting activities, animal rescues, band boosters, lake clean ups, food serving, classroom cleaning and mentoring – the Couchman family simply lives their value of volunteerism. “There isn’t a specific thing I like to volunteer for,” explains Madison, “I just like to volunteer, period. I like to go out and help people. It’s anything really.”