The Benefits of Volunteering
Starting from a very young age, I have always been involved in some sort of community service. Kindergarten through senior year, I was in the Girl Scouts of America, which is where I first learned about serving the community. I observed how to be resourceful, caring, considerate, giving and, per my scout leader, to “always leave a place better than you found it.” It seemed like at least once a month we were doing everything from singing in nursing homes to the elderly to raising money for a charity. The older we got, the more we also became mentors for the younger girls. The drive to obtain “badges” had me jumping on every opportunity I had -- which even included cleaning up trash at Tappen Lake every Sunday with my brother while on vacation.
We were rewarded with candy from the general store and a badge I knew I could proudly wear on my Girl Scout uniform! It’s funny how even now, about 20 years later, I still remember the sheer excitement my brother and I had waking up Sunday morning when everything was still damp from the summer dew, and it was so quiet because no one camping was yet awake.
The older I became, the more community service hours were needed for different things I was involved with, such as obtaining an academic letter in high school. To obtain those hours I was also volunteering at a no-kill shelter near my home that my best friend’s parents conveniently ran. (I even convinced my mom to bring a puppy home!)
In college, my Catholic sorority focused on philanthropy as one of their main foundations. We would have fundraisers for different non-profit organizations and donate our time. My personal favorite event was working the Late Apostolic Ministries to the Poor (LAMP) as both a philanthropic event and a bonding experience with my sisters.
There are few things that serve as bonding more than volunteering together every other Saturday morning in the Cathedral basement and being completely humbled by the experience. We would meet the T.O.R. Sisters bright and early to begin preparing breakfast for the less fortunate and homeless people in and around town. As people flooded in, we would serve them the breakfast we prepared and sit and talk to them and their families. The stories and hardships they spoke of were incredible. The sisters would give a religious lesson that many were very open and willing to experience. Afterward, the kids would run and play as well as do some sort of craft we’d prepared. The parents and others, meanwhile, would get in line while we provided everyone with a packed lunch to take home.
Community service hours were of the utmost importance to me in college -- next to academics and working. My younger brother had been volunteering at a non-profit haunted house. At the time, I had already overextended myself and was “burning the candle at both ends.” I was incredibly spread way too thin, which at that point had become a character trait for me. When he asked me to come down one night, I thought it wouldn’t hurt. I went down and volunteered one night in late 2011 and the rest was history as I am still actively involved over a decade later. This non-profit gives back to the community in SO many ways including monetary donations, sponsorships, working with the D.A.R.E. program and having dances for elementary aged kids. It has been a roller-coaster of an experience, which has also led to other opportunities.
In 2017, I started coaching in an 18-and-under fast-pitch softball league. I had played much of my life and a friend of mine asked if I would like to help coach. I agreed and was rather ecstatic to get back into the game in one way or another. Little did I know how much I would become emotionally invested into the experience. The game had me interested but the girls are what keep me coming back every year. I see each and every one of them almost as a younger sister. It is truly a pleasure to watch these girls grow from shy freshman to confident, strong women while collectively sharing a passion. It is also a great bonding experience for my mom and me as she helps coach and keep book. While we were providing this “service” to these young ladies by donating our time, they didn’t realize all they were providing and teaching me as well.
We all know the great things about volunteering – it is selfless, it is charitable, it is humbling and so on. But can we talk for a minute about the personal gains as well? The amount of self-discovery, self-growth and pride that comes with being able to give back to the community that raised me is extremely rewarding. Of course, there’s the WONDERFUL people I have met and the lifelong friends who have turned into family I’d have only gained through these experiences.
I know in today’s world, much is hard. Very literally, it feels like everything has become more difficult. Prices have gone up on everything, worldly affairs are not exactly “thriving” and a lot of us are working harder than ever to make ends meet. I know personally, I feel like I am overrun with trying to keep up on everything – a house, a job, my family – a day’s work is never done.
What we do need is love, kindness, empathy and a general understanding of one another. We need to be compassionate and lend a hand where we can -- even in the most difficult of times. I am lucky enough to be where I am in my life so it just feels right to give where I can and help when I can. I encourage all of you to volunteer within your communities or commit even one day per month to a good cause. You can volunteer at your local animal shelter, go to an elderly home and talk with the residents or even coach a team. It does not have to be a grand gesture either. Something as simple as taking an hour walk once a week and picking up any neighborhood garbage would be a great and easy way to give back or ease into giving back!
I encourage you to be the change you wish to see in the world and as a good friend once told me, I know I can’t change the world, but I can change my corner of it.