Dave Chrismon sat in the spring sun outside the Catalyst Café and Espresso Bar sipping coffee in clothes splattered with paint, pondering what it meant to be a volunteer.
Not just any volunteer, mind you, but Missoula’s Outstanding Neighborhood Volunteer of the Year.
Four days before this café moment, Chrismon stood before the Missoula City Council to accept the 11th annual award. The brief ceremony included a parade of supporters lauding him for his work, including Katherine Brady, who nominated him for the award.
“When I decided to nominate Dave for the award, it was specifically for his work with the University District Neighborhood,” said Brady, director of the Off-Campus Renter Center at the University of Montana. “But I quickly learned it’s just one of the many places where Dave gives his time.”
Many places indeed.
The list reads like a resume and includes door-to-door work to recruit residents to adopt traffic circles. He’s there to help with Sunday Streets Missoula, and he assists with the University District’s Ice Cream Social.
In 2014, Chrismon submitted a large neighborhood grant for the traffic signal-box art project, and he has joyfully answered phones for Montana Public Radio during its pledge drive.
As for his splattered painting attire?
On this day – a Thursday morning – Chrismon is volunteering with the Missoula Police Department and its Anti-Graffiti Task Force. It’s something he’s been doing since 2008 and rather enjoys.
“I don’t know what’s at the heart of it,” Chrismon said. “There’s probably some deep-seated need I have to work out. I’ve always enjoyed volunteering, and I’ve tried to help other folks get involved with volunteering over the years with different committees. I think it propels me in a lot of different ways.”
Chrismon received an art degree from East Carolina University and spent his early years working as a real estate appraiser back East. When his wife, Nancy Cooper, landed a job at UM, the family of three – including their daughter – moved to Missoula.
He’s been at home ever since, working to make the city a better place by giving his time. He spent a decade working for Opportunity Resources, and his service there hasn’t been forgotten by Barbara Simon.
She recalled her brother, Jack, and the impact Chrismon had on his life before his death.
“Dave found out that Jack liked to paint, so together they painted over graffiti weekly for the city police department,” Simon said. “Dave found out that Jack liked to sweep and wanted to work in a bicycle shop, so together they volunteered to sweep at Free Cycles. Here’s one man whose life was changed by Dave and whose volunteer work benefited many.”
While Chrismon is honored by his nomination as the Outstanding Neighborhood Volunteer of the Year, he remains humble in the praise that has come with it. The thanks may be one thing, but the personal satisfaction he gains from the work is something more.
“I see volunteering as a pretty personal thing,” Chrismon said. “When I do it, I don’t just look at how I affect the individuals. When I make a difference in the world or do something nice, it’s a good thing, but I don’t expect anything in return.”
Chrismon’s foray into volunteerism began during his days in college. It was then, he said, that he wanted to pad his resume. As an art student, he took the logical route by volunteering tables for art projects, but he never thought it would lead to something more significant.
Along the way, he discovered the personal satisfaction that came with the work. He gained new experiences, met people he wouldn’t have otherwise met, and came to see the world through a new lens.
“When I worked with Project Homeless Connect, I never thought I’d be connecting on lots of levels with homeless folks and getting a chance to help them,” Chrismon said. “It opens perspectives to the world you won’t see on TV, in your living room or in your backyard.”
As Brady stated in her nomination letter, Chrismon has a way of going “above and beyond the minimum requirements” of his given position. But if you ask Chrismon, it’s hard to imagine a world void of volunteers.
“I think volunteers make the world a smoother operating place, and it makes for a better society,” he said. “In a modern day, with so much electronics and dependence on media and TV, there’s an inclination to cocoon more, and volunteering counters some of that urge. It gets you out there and gets people engaged.”