Volunteering: Your Community Needs You|
When I decided it was time for a career change, there was one interview question that caught me off guard: “How do you give back to the community?” I was speechless. If someone asked me this question while in college, I would passionately describe the various organizations that I volunteered with and why I believed in them. However, after graduation I became so caught up in my first professional role that my weekdays and sometimes weekends consisted of work, work, and more work. Even the busiest CEOs and leaders invest time in charities so my demanding schedule was not a valid excuse. Highly interested in education, I joined a tutoring program that helps low income inner-city children.
You Can Learn From Anyone
Volunteering is an amazing learning experience and introduced me to people outside of my professional and social circle. I learned more from my eight-year-old mentee (who proudly refers to herself as her alter-ego name Cash Money) than I ever expected. As her tutor, I assumed I would be the one who taught and she would be the one who learned new things. My assumption was wrong. We can learn something from anyone, regardless of how much (or how little) formal education they have or how old they are. Little Cash Money opened my eyes to major issues within my community and taught me valuable insights.
Invest Time in People
There are a lot of young people who need a role model and someone who believes in them. When I started to work with Cash Money, I was warned that two previous tutors had already tried to work with her and found her to be too challenging. Cash Money was well aware that people think she is difficult and told me she is a “bad kid.” She is not a bad kid, but like most eight year olds, she has a short attention span. When I helped her complete assignments, she was beyond bored and would rather jab me in the arm with her pencil. I do not blame her. She was convinced that school was lame and that these worksheets would not help her in her everyday life. However, when we made what she was learning into a game and pointed out how the subject would help her in real life, she absolutely loved it. There are a lot of young people that others have given up on. When you invest time in someone who needs help, you can have a huge impact on their life.
A New Perspective
Volunteer experiences usually provide a much needed reality check and fresh perspective. The problems that I would stress out about in my life seemed so small in comparison to the challenges that Cash Money deals with as a child. She lives in a tough neighborhood where she has already been exposed to family issues, violence and drugs. Here I am stressing out about my major work project, when this eight year old is dealing with more than I have ever had to in my life. It was a brutal reminder not to stress out about the small things because things can be much worse.
Your Time Does Make a Difference
At the end of the school year, all of the students filled out an evaluation form about their tutor experience. Cash Money, who once hated learning and tutor sessions, wrote about how she loved coming to tutoring because she had fun and was proud to get better grades in school. Our time spent together helped her appreciate school and learning.
Whatever you are passionate about, volunteering is an amazing way to meet people in your community, better understand local issues, and make a positive impact. It also connects you to local leaders and expands your network. Now it is your turn to answer: “How do you give back to your community?”
Photo Courtesy of MLive.com