I wouldn’t say that my upbringing was overwhelmed with volunteering and service opportunities. I wouldn’t say that every weekend I was out doing something for the good of others. But somehow, almost unbeknownst to me, I learned some lessons from the volunteer experiences of my youth. It’s only when I take a moment to reflect that I even realize that my early experiences have shaped me into a real-life volunteer. Who knew?
Girl scouts and church. These were the two places where I first got my feet wet in the volunteer world.
When you’re a kid, you can easily feel like you have nothing to give: no money to donate, no knowledge to share. But kids do have time and energy (we hope). And that is all that it takes to lend a hand.
I began by raising money for and participating in the Crop Walk, a whopping 6 mile walk that my little legs definitely felt by the end. Easy. Once a year. And back in the days of no inhibitions when asking neighbors for a little money was no big deal. Success!
From then, I went on to Christmas caroling at area nursing homes, helping to hand out food at the food bank, sending care packages to soldiers in the Gulf and putting on puppet shows at a local church for under-served kids. These activities didn’t happen all the time, but once you do a little volunteering, it helps to pave the way for more. I didn’t even always want to do them, but the expectation was there, so I kept on trucking.
By the time I reached college, I guess my course was fixed. I did what plenty of other college kids do (eat too much, sleep too much, not study enough), but I also returned to the idea of helping others and became a volunteer again. I spent a spring break in Guatemala building cinder block houses. I coordinated with other volunteers to create a weekly violence prevention program that took place in a Washington DC public school classroom. I have read with kids, tutored kids, sorted food, taught parenting classes. The list of “time giving” goes on. I say this not to be self-righteous or pious in my volunteerism, but because I never really considered how the backdrop of helping out in my younger life has really created my apparent continued commitment to volunteering. At least not until I wrote this.
I even “volunteer” by singing in a community choir. Though I’m not “helping” anyone or scoring brownie points for myself, I am still giving something: my effort and my time. That’s all volunteering is, no?
I cannot say that having kids help out and volunteer when they’re young will help them grow up to be selfless and caring and kind-hearted.All of those attributes are difficult to attain and teach. But it can’t hurt to introduce your child to the world around them by asking them to give a little of themselves. It certainly helped me.