A PSA for Volunteering

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A large part of my life has always involved helping others. I remember way back in elementary school, I applied and was accepted to be a “peer mediator.” That meant that an older student and myself would sit down with two disputing students and work their differences out without a teacher involvement. I lasted all of one session before I realized I was wasting my time. The premise behind my motivation to try it stuck with me though. I wanted to help people.

People don’t realize that help can be given in many ways, ways that are often simple and effortless. While I talk a big game about giving back, most of my efforts aren’t doing a whole lot of work myself, but has mostly been motivating others to do so. That’s not to say that I don’t like to roll my sleeves up and get my hands dirty; in fact, I love it. Volunteering gives me great satisfaction. It’s important to give back. Why? I’ll tell you.

Last fall I started up an ongoing volunteer project for the Fall/Winter for my fraternity. The idea behind it was simple – help the elderly rake their leaves. Pretty straightforward right? We got off to a great start and even had one couple write a letter to our fraternity headquarters on how awesome we were. That’s not what makes it worth it though. The moment I realized that I loved what I was doing came from what was shaping out to be a horrible day.

My project was going on for about two or three weeks now and we had already visited 2-3 houses. One house I finally got scheduled for a Saturday morning. The only problem was that I couldn’t seem to get in touch with anyone to come out to the house with me. No blame is to be had, we’re all busy guys and I understand the lack of attendance (mind you hindsight is 20/20, I was a bit angry at the time). The house belonged to a widow. She was a petite Asian woman who had hurt her back. Her son was away at school finishing up his masters at MIT and wasn’t able to help out. I spoke briefly with the woman who told me she wanted the yard to look nice when her son came home later that week for Thanksgiving.

Here I am with this woman looking around the yard – it was massive! Luckily for me some of the neighborhood children had come by earlier to rake some of the leaves but I still had a lot of work to do. About half way through me raking this huge yard, I get a phone call from a brother who was on his way. Together him and I finished the yard. All together it took me about four hours. By the time I was done I was tired, sweaty, and aggravated.

Together my brother and I approached the lady to let her know the house was done and she was elated. I mean she was just so happy! The three of us had a nice conversation before we left. She must have thanked us a million times. In the end I walked away with three things: (1) a checked written out to my fraternity for our hard work; (2) an invitation to join her and her son for Thanksgiving dinner; and (3) a more positive attitude. This wonderful woman made me realize that I wasn’t there to just do my job and make my fraternity look good. I was there actually helping someone. For this woman, me raking leaves and dumping them in the woods was a great act of kindness. Somehow in the aggravation of my brain, I lost sight of that.

This is why we volunteer, though. To make people happy, to let them know that people care. In our society, a lot of people are cast to the side and forgotten about. As members of society, we should strive to be more conscious of the people that live alongside us. In the end, I learned my lesson. I ended up signing the donation I received that day over to the Amherst Senior Center without which I wouldn’t have started my volunteering project to begin with. I also worked more towards volunteering and making as big an impact as I can. You should do the same.

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