Transforming Time into Impact

Brent Slough

How harnessing the irreplaceable gift of volunteers' time creates lasting impact and builds capacity within Team Rubicon and beyond.

In the wake of disaster, the sight of Team Rubicon’s Greyshirts is a beacon of hope. For survivors, this veteran-led disaster response organization turns the tide from despair to relief through a simple yet profound commodity: time. Unlike any other resource, time is irreplaceable; a treasure volunteers generously donate to those in need. 

Yet there’s much in it for Team Rubicon’s volunteers—or Greyshirts—too. The chance to do high-impact work for those most in need is somehow its own reward. That they get trained to become even better, faster, or more efficient disaster responders in the process is a lucky byproduct. Meanwhile, Team Rubicon benefits from the Greyshirt’s donation of time in exchange for high-impact service by building capacity for more and greater service within the ranks in the future.

Here is how we convert the gift of time into positive impact and how this exchange is the key to personal growth for the people deploying and organizational growth for Team Rubicon.

A Force for Good…On the Individual Level

Team Rubicon aims to alleviate human suffering by mobilizing a force of volunteers to bridge the gap where help is scarce. This organization is a good-producing powerhouse, where the currency is not just money but the invaluable hours that volunteers contribute. The Greyshirts offer their time—an asset more precious than financial wealth—to make a tangible difference.

The magic happens when Team Rubicon matches the sacrifice of time with the urgency of need. Volunteers who deploy with Team Rubicon are entrusted with a noble pact: their offered time is transformed into meaningful, impactful action. If this were Team Rubicon’s sole achievement, it would be a mission fulfilled: connecting people willing to serve with the opportunity to serve in a meaningful way.

When working correctly, Team Rubicon creates a culture of selfless service wherever it operates through its commitment to providing good culture, structure, work within one’s capabilities, and, most essentially, by allowing Greyshirts to perform highly impactful work that addresses unmet need. All of this, and especially the chance to do high-impact work for those not being served by other organizations or services, becomes what is known as The Greyshirt Experience.

Volunteers who have had a successful Greyshirt experience often find themselves seeking more ways to continue to serve others over themselves. The desire to continue to serve can become all-consuming, and if left unchecked, Greyshirts may burn themselves out in the service of others. That’s part of the reason why we Greyshirts sometimes need to be reminded to “change your socks.”

Alternately, people who deploy on operations with low impact—where their service doesn’t seem to meet unmet need, for example, or where they seem to be serving those who have the resources to serve themselves—will not have the Greyshirt experience, even if Team Rubicon tries to supplement the operation with delicious food, a scenic location, beer, and fun campfires. These volunteers might leave the operation with an experience, but it won’t be the “Greyshirt experience.” This “other” experience actually erodes the moral foundation of this organization and the solemn pact (time for impact) that Greyshirts make when they register their availability for an operation. 

Growing Through Service…At the Organizational Level

Team Rubicon embodies the adage that “the more we serve, the greater our capacity for service grows.” This happens at the individual level, with volunteers increasing their desire and ability to serve after an initial deployment with Team Rubicon. But it also happens at the organizational level, where conducting operations increases future capacity. With each operation, Team Rubicon strengthens, mirroring the expansion of a muscle through constant exercise. 

This growth in capacity is often evident in local response operations. Local Greyshirts who became trained up while serving on other operations are now the first to deploy within their own communities. Their readiness and proximity create an immediate impact: They bring relief more quickly than would be otherwise possible, all while eliminating burdens (such as the need to provide lodging for responders) on the local infrastructure which is likely already strained by a disaster. Even those Greyshirts who aren’t initially deployable are usually moved to take the online prerequisites necessary to deploy with Team Rubicon, inspired to aid their own communities.

A Cycle of Goodwill and Empowerment…At Every Level

In their recognizable grey shirts, volunteers not only rebuild structures but also community spirit. Their presence and stories of service ignite a powerful chain reaction. Neighbors witness the good being done, hear the testimonials of both assisted homeowners and serving Greyshirts, and are inspired to join the Team Rubicon ranks. With each new volunteer signup, Team Rubicon’s bench-strength increases, enhancing its responsiveness for future disasters.

Team Rubicon thus becomes more than a response team; it is a growing force, with kindness, service, and love at its core. These values are not depleted with use but are instead amplified, fostering an ecosystem of perpetual aid and support.

Perhaps the most important thing for any Greyshirt or aspiring Greyshirt to know is that Team Rubicon is not just about responding to disasters; it is about creating a cycle of goodwill and empowerment. It harnesses the irreplaceable gift of time and turns it into lasting impact, and in doing so, cultivates a community ready to rise together against adversity. Every Greyshirt, every minute, every act of service contributes to a world where, despite the onslaughts of disasters, human compassion overcomes. The initial feeling of empathy for those affected by disasters is weaponized to create compassion in action. This is how we at Team Rubicon can continue to alleviate human suffering for those we serve.

Brent Slough has been a Greyshirt since 2015. He’s considered by many to be an action philosopher who puts his ideas of right and wrong into action through the work he does daily. He’s been the Mobilization Manager for Team Rubicon since 2018 and leads the team responsible for connecting Greyshirts with the Greyshirt experience.

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