When Andy Putman laced on his running shoes to attempt a 27-mile run to help offset his living expenses while he pursues an education, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Despite having a well-drawn set of plans and enthusiasm on their side, Tom Tullar, Doil Hammons and Raymond McCoy didn’t know what to expect when they began their neighborhood building project. The 85 teenagers who spent the first week of their summer volunteering to scrape paint and re-roof houses as part of Project Sweat probably finished their school year with a little different vision of how their summer break would begin.

While each may have entered their respective projects with confidence, some doubt about the outcome likely entered into their minds at some point along the way. In every endeavor worth undertaking, there are obstacles that have to be overcome. What kept them going, though, was the knowledge that their efforts were going to help someone - that by taking some kind of action, they would be building rather than tearing apart.

Daniel Graham described one of the initial inspirations of permaculture as the desire to do something. “People want to do something,” he said. “People respond if you give them something to do.” That is what is at the heart of volunteering - responding to something we’re challenged to do. Sometimes those responses help one person, sometimes it’s a family, and at other times it’s a community. Brownwood is known for a lot of things, and one of them should be our community spirit when it comes to offering our time and resources. Time after time resourceful citizens and organizations have found solutions to problems that could have had devastating effects on this area. From the Camp Bowie Industrial Park to the Family Services Center, over the years civic leaders have looked at a pile of lemons and made lemonade - as the old saying goes.

One of those potential situations was developing in our community about 10 years ago. Brownwood’s reputation was one of an aging community with limited prospects for young people and little interest in community self-improvement. Again a group of civic leaders challenged us to take a hard look at ourselves and then recruited some outside help to assist in creating a Brownwood identity.

The community’s slogan “Feels Like Home,” a Web site, www.brownwood

TX.com and the Brownwood Reunion Celebration all were born in the effort. In just over four weeks, we’ll celebrate the eighth annual Reunion, and more than 1,500 area residents will volunteer in the effort.

As much good as each of these efforts has created, they are not universally embraced. One can find fault in almost anything, if you search hard enough. Unfortunately, that’s the reaction too many people take - finding satisfaction in tearing something down. By their nature, though, volunteer efforts are not supposed to be about ourselves.

We don’t volunteer our time at a soup kitchen because we’re hungry. We do because we want to help someone else. If you don’t like how someone else chooses to give back to others, that’s OK, but don’t criticize. Find your own outlet and do something positive. Create something you think will help others, rather than destroying the efforts of someone else.

On a large scale or small, there is no wrong way to do charitable work. Anytime you can take positive action to help improve conditions in the world around yourself, you should take the opportunity to do so. Volunteering comes in many different shapes and sizes - so find the one that’s best for you and join the other people in our community who are overcoming obstacles to make a difference.

Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.