"The happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others." - Gordon B. Hinckley
I am blessed. And I forget it every single day. I wake up in the morning dreading having to crawl out from the warmth of my bed and into the frigid tundra that is winter in Indiana for 4 months out of the year. I complain about the post-work crowd at the gym and how it takes 2x as long to get my workout done because of it. I curse God every time I hit a red light when I’m late to an event or even just to meet up with my boyfriend after work. And then, I have moments like this, as I’m writing now, when I realize how petty all of those things are, and I feel ashamed for not feeling grateful – because there are mothers living no more than 5 miles from me worried about providing their kids’ next meal, and I’m here pissed at the world because Wal-Mart ran out of Soft Batch cookies. Pathetic.
I think when a lot of people think of giving back to charity, money automatically pops into their minds. Granted that is a part of it, and if you have the means, I highly suggest you build it into your budget – it gives you a sense of satisfaction that I can’t describe by putting pen to paper. However, when you’re in your 20s, giving up a part of your paycheck to charity may not be feasible. Let’s be real, more than likely YOU are the one in desperate need of that extra cash. I get it – I’ve been there. Delaying cash giving until you can go a month without eating Ramen (by necessity, not choice) is A-Okay in my book. However, that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on our communities until we’ve got money in the bank. No, at this point in our life, we have an abundance of one resource, even though we may not recognize it. And that resource is time. When it comes to charitable giving, money is mainly meant to be given by those with a good financial footing. As for the rest of us? Well, we should be rolling up our sleeves and getting into the heart of it.
A couple of years out of college, I came to this realization and went about trying to find a volunteer opportunity to fit my schedule and my interests. A friend of mine mentioned she was interested in joining the Junior League, a women’s organization focused on philanthropy and fundraising, and with no other direction to pursue at that point, I hopped on board. I was with the League for 2 years, and while I had great experiences while with that organization, I didn’t feel I was making the type of impact I wanted (and good grapes, did they have a heck of a lot of meetings); thus, I was again on the search for another opportunity.
One of the best things that came out of the Junior League was my introduction to the School on Wheels program, which finds volunteers to tutor homeless youth after school. It not only required just one hour of my week and fit with my work schedule, but it also focused on something I’m passionate about – educating our city’s youth. Many children don’t get the one-on-one time with an adult like I was used to with my parents when I was growing up, and I wanted to be that for someone else, especially since I don’t yet have children of my own. I signed up on New Year’s Day of 2013 and have been volunteering there ever since. It’s been 2 years of laughs (think episode of “Kids Say the Darndest Things”), celebrations (holla, someone got a B in math!), and I love you’s (those melt my heart). It’s more fulfilling than I ever thought.
We all can’t be Mother Theresa, spending decades giving our entire selves to the service of others; however, we all are capable of giving some of our time to make a change in the world, whether that be by walking dogs from the humane society, organizing inventory at a food pantry, or even just helping your elderly neighbor mow her yard or shovel her driveway. The more good we put into the world, the better it becomes…and the better we become. Win-win situation, right?
So how do you go about finding a volunteer opportunity? First and foremost, figure out where your interests lie – you couldn’t pay me to clean out dog kennels, but I’m more than willing to tutor (obviously) or work at a food pantry. Next, scour the internet. VolunteerMatch.org or CreateTheGood.org are great places to look into a wide variety of opportunities, and you can filter your search by your interests. Other good places to look into? Ask family & friends – post a Facebook message, send out a tweet. You’d be surprised the kind of feedback you can get just from your personal network.
According to GlobalRichList.com, if you make $32,500 annually, you are within the richest 1% of the world’s population. The richest 1 percent. Many of you who make near that income mark may beg to differ, but how many of us have ever actually felt true hunger? Or wondered if any of your friends or family would take you in for a few weeks because you got evicted? Or worried about if you have enough money to put gas in the car or pay for antibiotics or, hell, even to buy tampons? I’m guessing not many of you are raising your hands. And if you aren’t, then you should be counting your lucky stars…and getting out into the world and helping those that are. We can’t all make a difference financially, but we can through the generosity of our time, our talents, and our compassion. Don’t allow yourself to leave this world without putting something good back in it.