Volunteering, an Obligation or a Way of Life?
Back in October of last year, during the annual AmeriCorps Member retreat, one of the presenters asked the group to think about past volunteer experiences and consequently, stand up if volunteering was in your past. One by one people started standing up and soon everyone was standing. Except for me. People started reflecting on their past volunteer experiences, talking about how they’ve served food in soup kitchens or volunteered with kids in an impoverished area. Prior to joining AmeriCorps, volunteering was not in my vocabulary. In my circle of people, volunteering was done to get something in return– as a part of a requirement of some sort. I figured that since it was not “required” for me in any of my classes, I was lucky because I didn’t have to go out of my way. During my childhood I didn’t see much of selfless acts around me in the community. Giving your life to something you believe in, free of pay was not a part of my culture.
Being among all the good doers now was a shock, frankly I started feeling like I didn’t belong even though I really wanted to, I wanted in. I sat there and thought that I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a hassle- free life, where I had all the basic needs a kid could ask for. My parents were always all about my education and any extra- curricular activities I wanted to do. I was rarely denied anything I wanted and was not put in situations where I saw people who did.
When I accepted the AmeriCorps positionwith United Way of Lake County, I knew it was based in an area where there was a large need for help. However, I didn’t realize how large the need was. As I learned more and more about the community that I was now working in, I finally started feeling like I can be an agent of change for these people. The community is predominantly Hispanic, with a 14% living below the poverty line. Needles to say the majority of school- age children in the community need some sort of assistance. United Way of Lake County does a great job covering many areas of need and I am lucky to be a part of UWLC and have the ability to help. I help out with one of the four programs at UWLC but it’s so much more than that. I constantly try to find a way to “branch out” and get involved in other community events. I feel like sometimes it takes one person to change a life.
Not only do I feel like I’m finally doing something past my own nose but I want to get “my circle” involved as well. My family and close friends understand where I’m coming from and immediately jumped on the bandwagon but some people seem resistant. One of our projects called for a donation of children’s toothbrushes and I immediately knew someone who would be able to do that. According to the AmeriCorps agreement, I was not able to ask directly, but had a family member do it because of their affiliation with the dental office. The request for toothbrushes was denied faster than lightning, which is highly disappointing but at the same time made me realize that many people out there might not have been fortunate enough to be around people like I am.
In just a few short months, I feel like I’ve gone from a person who unwillingly would not pay enough attention to people that are not in my immediate circle, to a person who willingly dislikes people who have the opportunity to help and just wont.
HandsOn Corps National Direct Member: United Way of Lake County