“You must be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
I don’t remember the first time I volunteered for something. It could have been through early mornings in guilt ridden religious classes or through Girl Guides earning badges in community service. Maybe it was my curiosity regarding medicine or the urge to wear a special red and white striped apron that led me to candy-striping at the next community’s hospital, driving what seemed like hours every Tuesday evening to refill linens and hand out fresh ice water. It could have been a school or band fund raiser, taking tickets or selling tickets or arranging events. I don’t remember a start, and I don’t imagine an end to spending some portion of my spare time doing unpaid work. I can trace the need to my parents who have always in my memories been volunteers – although being teachers may have initiated them since teachers are expected to supervise extracurricular activities without pay nor often any thanks. They’ve volunteered their time, skills, and efforts in local theater, lobbying, art organizations, board of directors for the local co-operative, coaching sports teams and now, although technically paid a stipend, they work with housing in their home town and give much more time and care than they are paid for.
Volunteering is like coffee in the morning – it brings me satisfaction and I can’t imagine life without it.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that every has.” – Margaret Mead
I was making a list the other day on what volunteering has brought me personally – I’m a “volunteer coordinator” for a non-profit organization and sometimes I have to sell the idea of volunteerism to people who have amazing skills that our organization can use. And also to sell the idea to friends and family who are spinning their wheels in their daily lives, just needing some fresh air infused into their routine. Without volunteering, I would never have learned:
- to tell a wicked choose-your-own-adventure story that mesmerizes a child. This skill was learned and needed during summer Brownie/Sparks camps during a really freaky thunderstorm.
- to speak publicly and enthusiastically about things I believe in.
- to make burgers and juice to serve hundreds with total strangers and loving every minute of it.
- to pace myself and not take on too much or too little.
- that just because a perk of volunteering during halloween is permission to go through the haunted house for free, it’s not necessarily a good idea (Yes, I ran out the emergency exit side door screaming. I’m at peace with my woosiness.)
- that learning and trying out new skills is always an option.
- the joy and pride of watching the final runners cross the finish line during a 24 hour relay marathon.
- to ask for help.
- to teach a mentally ill person how to communicate via email with his loved ones.
- to laugh as children challenge each other to run through an autumn maze fundraiser.
- how to guide people who want to help but just don’t know how volunteering could work in their life.
- that our unwanted belongings mean the world to a complete stranger starting a new life.
- that three hours of my time means that a community organization now has a web presence to field FAQs and give contact info and directions to their location.
- that if there is a will, there’s always a way.
- what the back room of a casino looks like while counting $300,000 in a locked cash room with seven other people.
- the joy of watching a mother and her newborn during their first day together while bringing fresh warm blankets to their room.
- to give a little, to give a lot, to know that both helps.
I’ve been a volunteer coordinator for awhile now and have a system so that it takes only a couple of hours a week during lunch to get the job done. I help in a clothing drive once per year, but that’s not until next month so I’m itching for a new way to help, a new task, a new learning experience.
I’m waiting with baited breath for an opportunity that I’ve applied for. I checked the local volunteer listings (Canada here, USA there) and of all the listings in my neighborhood, one especially caught my eye. Quick, picture me doing this:
“Bunny Exerciser – Dogs aren’t the only ones who need exercise! Weekly commitment required.”
Yes, I thought it was a good match too.