Frankly, I get a bit embarrassed when people tell me what a wonderful person I am for making the Charley Project. My motives for making and maintaining the site are essentially selfish: I do it because I want to. It has been suggested by some people in a position to know, and yet never formally diagnosed, that I might have a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome. One of the characteristics of this peculiar condition is an obsession with and encyclopedic knowledge of one or more extremely narrowly defined topics. Charley would definitely qualify. (My other obsession, incidentally, is the author-god Robert Cormier, whom I’ve been in love with since I was twelve years old — curiously, about the same time I became obsessed with missing people. Hmmm.)
I view Charley as not a charitable effort but more like a hobby. Some people collect stamps or bugs or rare coins; I collect missing people. My hobby happens to be helpful to others, which is great. Like most people, I like being helpful. But I would continue my work anyway even if it wasn’t benefiting a single other person besides me.
(This, by the way, is why I don’t have unidentifieds on my site and why I don’t try to do my own matches. Unidentified people, for whatever reason, do not interest me very much — certainly not enough to spend many hours every week gathering the cases together and updating them as needed. So I let other people find the unidentifieds and try to match them with cases on my site. That seems to work out fine for everyone.)
I suppose, however, that much the same could be said for most people who do charitable work. No one is going to spend day after day doing something they hate for no pay, even if it does help other people. People do things like volunteer in soup kitchens, or donating money to charities, because they like to and it makes them feel good. There are enough charitable efforts out there that you’re bound to find something you like doing. Charley just happens to be mine.
If that makes any sense at all.