“It is one of the beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
While dropping my daughter off to do some volunteering at a carnival our temple was hosting, I learned a sad lesson about why children may be volunteering. Are we teaching our children that volunteering is a requirement needed to join academic organizations, or are we teaching them the true importance of volunteering and allowing them to learn what the power of giving to others has on your own life? Volunteering has played such an important part in reversing how I felt about myself in the past four years, and I felt that it would be a huge shame if our children were missing out on experiencing the real value in volunteering.
Please don’t take what I am saying the wrong way, as I am well aware of how critical it is to selflessly be charitable, however I am writing this piece to show how volunteering could help someone who may be struggling to make sense of their circumstances. It is also volunteering selflessly that has a natural reward of helping us without helping ourselves.
My daughter was born with a natural desire to give back and be charitable. In this case, I will admit, she was not there for selfless reasons. She was required to prove that she had a certain amount of volunteering hours to be considered for Junior Honor Society. So, volunteering for the temple carnival would have never happened if this document didn’t need the signature. Being a dad of a 12 year old girl, I walked her in to make sure she got to where she needed to be. I also decided to kill two birds with one stone, so I told her to get the document signed and I would take it with me. This way she would not need to keep track of it while she worked and I could then just pull up at the front door to pick her up as opposed to making another trip in with the document.
We were greeted by two ladies who were checking in the volunteers. Upon my daughter asking to have the document signed they very smugly stated “No, we will not sign it until you have actually completed the volunteering,” then flashed each other a look and said “if we sign it now she will leave without helping.” As they smiled proudly at us, making sure they’d made their disapproval of our request clear, I attempted to explain that I was the one who wanted the document signed first, so I could take it with me and not have to make the trip back into the building when picking her up. I gave up, realizing it wasn’t worth the argument, and I decided I didn’t want to use my crutches as an excuse. As I drove away I couldn’t help thinking how sad this interaction was.
It was sad that we live in a world that would cause these two ladies to automatically assume the worst in us. It was also sad that their reaction to signing the paper didn’t do anything to encourage future volunteering. Yet the saddest part was that my daughter needed to get this document sighed in the first place. Her reward for being charitable doesn’t require a signature. In this case volunteering for the temple carnival just wasn’t a cause she was passionate about. We both understand the value of volunteering, and neither of us deserved these ladies’ condescending attitude. So, what I found myself wondering was that maybe we are teaching our children that volunteering is all about getting the signatures for various applications.
How A Volunteering Opportunity Helped Me
I have always realized the importance of getting involved and helping out, and I’ve certainly tried to do my share. In fact, I became a teacher due to my strong desire to have a career in which I could make a difference in this world. Life happens though; I suddenly had a wife, three children and a very demanding job, and everything became pretty overwhelming without adding in volunteering my time. I tried my best to help out when needed and made plenty of monetary charitable contributions, so felt I was doing my part. Yet it wasn’t until I wound up suffering a life-changing injury, losing my career and facing depression that I truly discovered the personal payoff of volunteering
One of the lowest points of dealing with my injury was in the autumn coming up to the 2nd anniversary of having my ankle fused. At that point I had just had the 4th surgery, lost my job and was facing the two-year anniversary of forever altering the anatomy of my leg to still be in pain. I honestly didn’t know where to turn and found myself falling into complete despair. I wanted to work, but knowing I was far from done with this ordeal, I felt it wasn’t fair to myself or an employer to commit to a job. Yet I desperately needed something meaningful to do to occupy some of the time I was spending dwelling on my problems.
As luck would have it my daughter’s elementary school was in need of someone to volunteer to be president of a financially-troubled Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Being a PTA president is equivalent to having a full-time job and certainly something I had never dreamed of doing, but I seized the moment and accepted the opportunity. I was suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of issues to solve. My days quickly went from being a recluse in my home to returning into the outside world to plan family events, raise funds for educational programs and fixing the financially-struggling PTA, which was the very heart of the elementary school community.
During the next two years the PTA got me through two additional surgeries. A week or two after these surgeries I was forced to hobble out with my casted leg on crutches to lead PTA meetings. I was forced to stay in touch with the outside world; I learned new skills, met great people and did all this while giving back to my community. Once a week I crutched my way into the elementary school to read with students who needed a little extra help with their reading skills. On many of those days the effort seemed too great, the pain too severe, however once I was sitting in that school with second graders reading to me I felt wonderful. Never once, no matter what my pain level was, did I regret the effort it took for me to pull myself up on to those crutches and volunteer my time to students in need.
After two years of serving as the PTA president of the elementary school my daughter moved on to middle school. I then spent the next two years serving as vice president to the school district’s PTA Council Board. Once again, not only did this experience help me heal, grow and feel good about myself, but it also gave me the opportunity to learn valuable skills.
While enduring one of the most difficult times I had ever experienced in my life, a volunteering opportunity reversed my downward spiral toward depression. It gave me a worthwhile activity to focus on. It occupied my time, helped take my mind off my troubles, taught me new skills, kept me interacting with people and made me feel like a productive member of society. I gained all this while volunteering my time helping to make our school a better place for the children of our community. In the end I was helping to rebuild a troubled PTA, while the PTA was helping to rebuild a broken man.
Learning the value that volunteering has on our lives has nothing to do with obtaining enough volunteering hours to get into an academic club or college. What we need to teach our children is to volunteer because we are all part of this world and need to do our part in taking care of every living creature on it. We need to teach them to volunteer selflessly and experience the natural reward they will receive. We need to teach them that when your life takes a wrong turn, when you are feeling lost, or life has a void in it, volunteering has an amazing power to help you heal.
If you are struggling due to a disability, injury or unemployment, then I can’t emphasize enough how much volunteering could help you. Beyond the PTA I have searched out many other volunteering opportunities that have enriched others’ lives while giving sense to my own.
Find ways to volunteer. There are so many needs out there and many can be done from your home. Volunteering is a fantastic way to make you feel productive and good about yourself while helping others.
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