Finding Purpose in a Slightly Worn Soccer Ball

Kemp Nussbaum

A newly-minted Greyshirt reflects on what it’s like to serve on an Afghan resettlement operation, and getting a lesson that endures.

As a semi-retired person, I recently found myself with a grotesque excess of spare time on my hands. So, I began searching for some more purpose in my daily life. I heard from a friend about his work with an organization that was helping to resettle Afghan refugees around Denver and decided to learn more.

Reading through the Team Rubicon web pages I began learning about various missions—deployments to natural disasters, the ability to become a chain saw operator, or simply laboring on fire mitigation teams, and humanitarian efforts abroad—but it was a local mission, Enduring Eagle, that ultimately grabbed my attention. That, and the fact that the Team Rubicon motto “we get shit done” spoke to me. 

After doing all the paperwork, including a background check, I was proudly anointed a Greyshirt—Team Rubicon’s name for a volunteer—and given the opportunity to deploy on my first operation, which I scheduled immediately. 

Enduring Eagle operates across the country to resettle Afghan refugees into new communities, including Denver. Working with various agencies throughout the area, Team Rubicon provides a huge welcome to Afghan refugees by moving them into their new homes, which is a foundation to a settled life. These refugees get additional support from a variety of agencies integrating them into education, work, and life. 

Our basic role as Greyshirts for Enduring Eagle in Denver is to gather donated furniture from a variety of locations and deliver it to the Salvation Army warehouse, where it is sorted, organized, and staged for pickup. Later, it is moved into the apartments where the Afghan refugees will live. 

Moving furniture is hard work and requires a strong body and willingness to work as a team, and the other Greyshirts I’ve met have been a diverse group, with a common need to help others. We have the opportunity, several times a day, to get to know one another, which is awesome. Many have served our country in one of the military branches. Others, like me, are referred to as “kick-ass civilians.” It is amazing how many incredible stories are shared by humble folks just out there getting shit done.  

A Greyshirt moves furniture into a home for an Afghan family in Denver. Photo by Amy Jordheim.

A typical day on one of these operations begins at the warehouse, where we are split into teams depending on the location of pickups, loads, and available volunteers. We then go pick up donations from a variety of locations, bring them back to the Salvation Army warehouse, and unload the trucks. 

While “moving furniture” is surely listed somewhere on the World Wide Web just behind laundry and dental work as the least favorite thing to do in life, somehow these moves just seem right.

During moves and over lunch breaks, stories are shared around the table. I really enjoy those from volunteers who have met the Afghan families moving into the homes the Greyshirts are setting up. They have described families, groups of brothers, and individuals who met only when they got to the U.S. and are now living together. 

I have heard stories of an Afghan father learning how to operate an American stove for the first time, and stories of kind refugees offering food and drink to the volunteers setting up their apartment. All have been heartwarming, human stories that prove that beyond war, conflict, and tragedy, we are all humans first, equipped with similar emotions, fears, and dreams for our life. 

In the afternoon, new teams are formed to move furniture into the apartments. At those apartments, we meet representatives from the International Rescue Committee who bring more personal items such as kitchen wares, food, and toys for the children. 

I remember how, on my first day, I was feeling quite worn out from carrying in all the heavy sofas, tables, and bedding, when I glanced down and saw a slightly worn soccer ball sitting among the stuff. At that moment, I thought about how all of this heavy stuff was nothing compared to what the family had encountered. 

The furniture I carried will soon belong to a family. People who need a comfortable place to sit, sleep, and eat will use it. Men and women, children and grandparents will sit on those sofas and at those tables sharing their own memories, and making new ones. And, one day, a child may look down at that slightly used soccer ball and find a warm memory of a normal time in their life, when playing soccer was the happiest and most natural part of their day. 

Whenever the work involved with being a Greyshirt gets difficult for me, I think of that slightly worn soccer ball. Through this image, I am reminded of my purpose for being a Greyshirt, not of the chore of moving heavy stuff but rather knowing that I, along with other Greyshirts, am helping others get some normalcy back in their lives.

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