Special thanks to Debbie for volunteering to be Volunteer Spark’s first volunteer profile.
Debbie works full-time at a non-profit and is the mother of a young son. Below, she shares about how she got started volunteering, her most memorable experiences, and why she thinks volunteering is important:
How she got started:
Fervently pro-choice, I had organized rallies and guest speakers in college, but never had worked in a clinic. I felt it was important to help out on the “front lines”, so to speak.
After graduating college and starting a full-time job, my first volunteering experience was at Planned Parenthood in Kansas City Missouri. I did general office work, helped with mailings, ran errands for full-time office staff.
Not only did I have to walk through some pretty aggressive and mean protesters to get inside, but I was pretty impressed with the grit of the medical and administrative staff who walked through those protesters everyday. They were yelled at by name, pelted with all sorts of things, called at home and berated. Plus, my heart melted for the women who bravely crossed through those protesters to receive health care.
Sadly, I’ve not volunteered in a clinic in a very long time. Today, I wouldn’t, given that I’m a single mother and just can’t afford to risk injury or worse. But, I’ve volunteered in political campaigns and look forward to getting my young son involved in the next campaign that moves me. He was too young to be involved in the last Presidential–but I have a feeling he will be walking precints with me in 2012. I’ve learned that I can make a difference. No, I wasn’t providing any sort of health care or counseling–but, the fact that I was there, willing to help (if even to straighten up the lobby), made me realize that even the smallest contribution counts and adds up to improving the experience for who you are serving. Also, I learned that writing checks is great, but showing up on the “front lines”–whether that be at a clinic, campaign, retirement home, school–can be more impactful. The human element of volunteering cannot be discounted.
Why people don’t volunteer, and why they should:
I think there are two big excuses. I can’t possibly make a difference, and I dont’ have the time. I suppose it’s like anything, right? If you want to do it, you will.
Number one reason to volunteer: People. We need to let others know we care, that we hear/see them, that we want to help. I think we’ve lost a sense of community in this country. We tend to compartimentalize issues and as a result we forget that the homeless or women who are abused or addicts or runaway kids or the jobless are human. It’s easy to ignore a statistic–much more difficult to ignore real people. The more we get out there and really see the problem and its human dimension, the more likely we’ll demand and get real change from our government.
I would tell them to think about an issue that is important to them, and then call an organization involved in that issue to see what they may need. It does the heart good, it expands one’s thinking, and it helps build community.
Ok, now you’ve got me all jazzed to get out there and volunteer. Thanks Nora for letting me answer these questions! It was a fun exercise–got me thinking about what is truly important!
What cause really matters to you?
Do you like photography? Do you like working with fantastic young people? Thanks to my classmate Jonathan for writing a blog post about the great organization Youth In Focus and sharing a fantastic opportunity for volunteers this weekend.
From his blog:
On Saturday, December 3, the Youth in Focus photographers will be shooting holiday photos at a greatly reduced price for families in need. That takes place from 7:30 am to 6pm at the Youth in Focus Gallery (2100 24th Ave. S., Suite 310, Seattle 98144) and they’re looking for volunteers.
Call them directly at 206.407.2126 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. For anyone that wants to support YIF but can’t physically make any of these events, you can still make a donation on their site.
Could you give a couple of hours of your time?
In my second blog post, Back to the Beginning, I shared that I sought out volunteer opportunities shortly after a break-up. One of the main reasons I wanted to volunteer was to meet new people outside my existing social circle. Apparently, I’m not alone–my poll Why do you volunteer showed that one of the top reasons people volunteer is to meet new and interesting people.
I’ve met amazing people from all walks of life through my volunteer experiences: other volunteers, project hosts, project beneficiaries, and non-profit employees.
I’ve made lifelong friends with amazing people because I met them on a project, and I’ve met people who were only in my life for a moment but left their mark forever.
I’d like to share the story of a young man I’ll call Edward. (I’ve changed it from his real name). I met Edward while volunteering at a school in New Orleans. He was amazing–bright, engaged, and full of life. He spent two days with us painting and cleaning up his school. He was excused from class because he was different. Edward was only 12 years old, but he was already dealing with rejection from his peers, and even his teachers, because of something he couldn’t change. Edward was gay, living in the 9th ward in New Orleans, and dealing with prejudice on a daily basis.
Edward and I made a special bond over those days. We developed inside jokes. We got paint on each other. We gave him a chance to escape from some of his daily challenges while helping to improve his own surroundings.
I only knew Edward for two days, but I’ll never forget his charm and character. Oh, and his smile that could light up a room.
Edward is just one of 100’s of people I’ve met who has changed my life. I’ve traveled across the world to Thailand and learned about people who live walking distance from me by helping sea gypsies replant mangrove trees.
And I’m not the only one who has had their life changed by someone they met through a volunteer project.
I’ve even been invited to weddings for couples that met volunteering together.
Do you know anyone who shines and brightens your day despite adversity?
My last blog post included a poll to find out more about what motivates volunteers to take action. There were 185 votes collected, but the top 5 answers accounted for 65% of all responses.
#5: To get to know a community.
#4: To feel better about themselves.
#3: To demonstrate commitment to a cause or belief.
#2: To meet new or interesting people.
#1: To help others.
The most popular answer was what I expected, but I was surprised the second most popular reason was the social aspect. I wonder if my data is skewed by the audience it was shared with, or if that really is one of the top reasons people volunteer.
Also, I’m still recruiting volunteers to answer a few questions about their volunteer experiences and be featured on the Volunteer Spark. Please leave a comment or e-mail email@example.com.
My next blog post will further explore the topic of the people you can meet while volunteering.
Do you have a story to share about who you’ve met while volunteering? I’d love to hear about your experience!
Have you ever volunteered? What motivated you to give your time?
Please leave me a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be willing to be interviewed for a future blog post.
In my last post I provided several local resources that can help you find a volunteer opportunity in the Seattle area that is right for you.
Seattle Works is an organization that is close to my heart. I’ve volunteered on single projects, teams, lead teams, traveled around the country, traveled around the world, and even joined their social media committee. But my favorite thing about them, is they make giving back easy.
This video features a board member, a volunteer, and a project host sharing why Seattle Works is perfect for busy people who want to make a difference in their community.
- Seattle Works – My personal favorite! One-time volunteer opportunities, team volunteer events, board service training, and more.
- Volunteer Match: Seattle | Bellevue | Everett – The “Monster.com” of volunteer opportunities.
- Share Our Strength – Volunteer opportunities to fight childhood hunger in the Seattle area.
- United Way of King County – Find great holiday, family, group, youth, and one-time volunteer opportunities.
Millennials Task Force – The United Way of King County is also looking to create a task force of millennials to be more involved with the organization. The informational session is this Tuesday November 15.
“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The first day of service in New Orleans was Martin Luther King day and it was the first of three days at Carver Elementary.
Carver Elementary was basically just a bunch of modular buildings (trailers) that had been setup in a gravel lot, with a chain link fence around it. The students and teachers had commented that it looked like a prison, and so we were coming to add some color and fun.
We ended up getting a little lost on our way there, and drove a bit farther into the 9th ward. This was the first time we’d left the main part of the city and the first time we saw the true devastation that still exists. There were trailers that were torn apart, just on the side of the road. Houses upon houses boarded up, and torn apart.
When we did arrive at the school, it was really striking just how barren it was. We got to work quickly building benches, flower boxes, garbage can holders, planters, and painting murals and sidewalk art.
Come the end of the day, we met the principal and the literacy teacher for the school. We also found out that this school was the one that was shown on all the news channels as the school bus depot that was half underwater. These kids are just finally getting back into their school in October, and even then it’s just trailers. The classrooms and hallways are all decorated, but the outside was just totally bleak.
The teacher and the teacher spoke to us, and told us how blessed they felt to have us there. The teacher had some very powerful words about the school, Martin Luther King, and us. I really can’t do her words justice, but she made me cry.
I stayed and chatted with them after for a few minutes, and learned more and more about the challenges they face. That some of these kids are just coming back to the city now. That many of the students haven’t been in school for the last couple of years, and are behind in their grade, but not developmentally. That so many of these kids still need to be helped and given things like warm winter coats. Despite all of these challenges, they really were grateful to us. They spoke about how things like us coming and volunteering and helping out for a week, even two years later, reminded so many people (themselves included) that it’s the right thing to do to help out however you can.
That was why I went. I’m went to do good, to help those that still need it. To brighten the children’s day when they come back to school and find new flowers, brightly painted four square and hop scotch, and their school colors everywhere.
The volunteers sat around after talking about how volunteering isn’t just about going to a destination that has been effected by devastation, but doing something in your own home town. Work with special olympics, find an organization that does something you believe in.
You don’t have to have money, or tons of time, and what you do in one afternoon can make a huge difference to someone.
This is why I volunteer.
Teamworks was a great taste of volunteering. Twenty or so of us would show up to a project, work hard for four hours, and see real results when we finished. We removed invasive species (DIE BLACKBERRIES DIE!), we sorted food at food banks, and we setup dress shops for free prom dresses.
Each organization we volunteered would start the day by introducing us to their mission and helping us understand why what we were doing that day was important. Most of them were very small and their projects were infrequent enough that they didn’t have lists of volunteers they could easily round-up for one afternoon. The Teamworks volunteers from Seattle Works made a tangible impact for these organizations and their beneficiaries.
The more I gave to these organizations, the more I wanted to do something bigger.
When an e-mail about a volunteer trip to New Orleans came to my Inbox, I knew what the next step would be.
This was two years after Katrina had struck the Gulf Coast, but there was still lost of work to do, and the initial surge of volunteers had dwindled.
This was another chance for me to really make a difference and help organizations that couldn’t get enough local volunteers.
I knew the need in New Orleans was greater than the need locally, but I didn’t really have any idea just how much work there was to do.
I moved to Seattle in 2005 right after graduating college. I had a long-distance boyfriend who lived on the opposite coast and I found a job working at a small marketing agency.
I lived three blocks from my office, I worked long hours, and I spent what little free time I had either with my college friends or on the phone with someone who was 3,000 miles away. I was completely in my own world and disconnected from the community surrounding me.
That all changed when the long-distance relationship ended and I realized that my job was consuming me. I wanted–or even needed–to find a way to connect.
I wanted to meet new people, but, I also wanted to do something bigger than just myself. I wanted to volunteer.
But where to start? I googled Seattle volunteer and eventually I came across an organization called Seattle Works and a program called Teamworks. People in their 20s and 30s signed up to volunteer together once a month for four months.
And thus my volunteer spark was ignited.