For our latest monthly volunteer spotlight, we’re delighted to feature Jack Ramsey, who volunteers in not just one, but two, roles with Central City Concern! Read our Volunteer Manager’s interview with Jack to find out how his past professional career informs one of his volunteer roles, as well as how his second role has shaped and enriched his life today.
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Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?
Jack: Jack Ramsey and I have two roles. I volunteer over at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room and my job there is to just kind of generally help out, to chat with clients, and become part of that operation. That includes anything from washing dishes to making sandwiches. Mostly what I do is talk with folks and I’ve been doing it about nine months now I think. I feel like I’ve made friends there. If there’s a week that I can’t be there because I’m out of town, I miss them. I’ve really learned a lot from those guys. About myself, about the kinds of people that you see on the streets. People that are homeless and suffering from mental illness, addiction, they’re kind of superheroes to me, because they’re able to deal with those issues and really improve their lives.
The other is that I’m a member of the Marketing Advisory Council and what I bring to the party there is 40 years of work doing advertising and marketing.
P: I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.
J: Well, I got in to marketing because I could write. I worked for a couple of computer companies down in California, ended being an ad manager for one of them, and then I was recruited in 1976 by a small advertising agency in Silicon Valley that just happened to have as its main client a young company by the name of Intel. That was sort of my big break. During that time, a guy named Steve Jobs walked in. He had liked the Intel work we were doing and talked my boss in to helping him. About six month later we had developed all that original Apple brand and I had written the first ad for Apple.
P: What was that first ad, do you remember?
J: I just remember that it wasn’t very good. We didn’t know what a home computer was! I asked my boss, “What are they doing?” He said, “Well, it’s a home computer.” So I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “That’s what we have to figure out!”
Steve brought in a bunch of things, like a naked circuit board and a TV monitor, and he said he was going to change the world, and we were going to help him. We had to figure out what Apple would look like and what the voice should be.
When Intel moved a big part of its operations to Oregon in 1978, I moved here to open an office for my agency. My plan was to come up for a year or two and have an adventure and here I am almost 40 years later.
I almost completely retired about 3 years ago and my wife and I bought an RV and hit the road for a year. I learned for the first time in my life to live day to day and take what comes. I actually did do a couple branding projects from the road, but it was fun. I love being in the game. If I crave anything in my life, it’s solving problems.
P: Do you find that some of the skills you built in your career come in to your work at the Living Room?
J: In a lot of ways, it’s sort of the [photo] negative image of my career. I’m not selling anything, there’s no agenda with it, and I get to purely engage on a human level, with all these amazing people that are fighting the worst things you can imagine. I just get to go hang out with amazing people.
The way I ended up at the Living Room was, as I was retiring and I actually had more time to do what I wanted instead of what other people wanted me to do, I kind of wrestled with it for a while. Should I go back to school or volunteer? I couldn’t find volunteer opportunities that were meaningful to me. I met a guy one day and he says, you should get in touch with CCC. I applied on the website and I wrote a note that said that I’m happy to do anything.
I remember 30 years ago driving down Everett street and there was a guy staggering across the road and I said to my friend, “Do you ever just feel guilty, that there but for the grace of God go I?” So the opportunity to work in the living room with all these folks really appealed to me. It’s been an amazing experience and continues to be. And I’m not giving it up.
P: Any stand out experiences during your time here?
J: Yeah, there was one guy at the living room, and we would get in to these heavy philosophical conversations about human nature and science and philosophy. This is a guy who lived for ten years on a front porch. He is really a brilliant man.
P: That’s not something that we all get to do, is see the depth of people who are experiencing homelessness.
J: And what quality people they are and thoughtful and intelligent and self-aware. Even if they are in recovery from addiction or dealing with a mental illness, they’re learning how to be productive, functional people. It’s heartwarming for me to see someone’s eyes light up when they see me, because they know that I’m happy to see them too. Or when someone comes over and asks me to come talk to them. I actually feel like I’m making a difference in these people’s lives.
I’ve lead an exciting life and I’ve gotten to experience all kinds of successes and failures, but in a lot of ways, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve done. This has gone from “Oh gee, what am I going to do in my spare time?” to really one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
P: Not everyone is able to make that kind of transition.
J: I know, I feel honored that I am allowed to do this.
P: Helps keeps the skills sharp too! We haven’t talked about the Marketing Advisory Council too much, but you had said that you crave problem solving, do you get your fill of that with the MAC?
J: Well, I just came from a MAC meeting! The best thing about it is that I don’t have to do the work, but the worst thing about it is that I don’t get to do the work
At the last MAC meeting we discussed these new ads for CCC, and that we need to makes sure these ads engage people on an emotional level. This isn’t just about telling people what CCC does, it’s about making people care.
P: If you could sum it up, what keeps you coming back to volunteer?
J: The people. They’re just wonderful. The clients are wonderful people that impress me, that touch my heart, that amaze me. The people that work here and the other volunteers are here for all the right reasons. We’re here to help people. It’s a much more rewarding mission than trying to make money or make somebody a star. It’s honest.
P: What would want someone to know who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?
J: Take the plunge! The water is great. You’ll never know yourself as well as you will when you’re doing this, when you’re working completely selflessly.
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If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our volunteer webpage.