Two of my five jobs as a college student are volunteer positions. People often ask me why I volunteer instead of applying for a position that pays, and I usually don't have an answer. It wasn't until a few weeks ago when I was at one of my volunteer sites. I didn't really want to be there. I had a lot of homework to do, papers were starting to pile up, and all I really wanted was a nap. I remember texting my friend, complaining about having to be volunteering instead of studying at the library. He responded back, "Just remember why you're volunteering, and try to have fun". It got me thinking. Why do I volunteer? Why do I find it so rewarding? The rest of that shift was spent brainstorming and soul searching.
Here's some of the reasons I determined are why I volunteer.
1. The Community
Being a college student, sometimes it's nice to get off campus and be around people who aren't stressed about exams and professors. Becoming more involved in the community I live in for nine of the twelve months of the year has made me more connected on campus as well as in town.
When I'm volunteering, I have an opportunity to apply class knowledge into my work life and then take those same experiences and apply them back into the classroom. It all comes full circle.
3. Professional Development
Since last year, I have been a regular volunteer, clocking an average of 5-6 hours a week, which is a pretty big accomplishment for me and my schedule. After a year of olunteering, I have now been promoted to a manager position, which is a great resume builder as well as amazing experience for future endeavors.
4. Helping Others
I don't know what it is about a smile and a heartfelt "thank you" that is so much more rewarding than a check made out with my name on it, but it's something I hope I never take for granted. Knowing that my behind the scenes work at the thrift store allows children to have a winter coat in December or that every nail I hit into the shingles on a roof in the Appalachian mountains is still making a difference to someone today gives me goosebumps. It's the littlest things that make the biggest difference.
5. They Help Me
Working with families in the poorest regions of the Appalachian regions, all the way down in Mission, Texas, or even here in Pella, Iowa has given me a level of gratitude and selflessness I could never learn in a classroom setting. How can I claim to have an "empty closet" when I just built a home for a family that has been living in a shed with a dirt floor and no running water?
6. The Views
Volunteering takes me to places I have never been. From the mountains of Appalachia to the Mexico/Texas border, I have seen and experienced beautiful places I wouldn't have otherwise seen. The 20 hour van rides packed in like sardines with my classmates get a little annoying, but spilling out of the van to see breathtaking views makes it all worth it.
If you had handed me a hammer and nails and told me to get to work four years ago, I would have laughed at you. Yeah, I know girls are fully capable of construction work, but that was intimidating to me. I now know that a board-stretcher is not a real tool found in the back of the trailer (I learned this on my very first mission trip. Three cheers for being a "newbie"). The confidence I've gained from volunteering has extended much farther than shingling a roof. It has spilled into other aspects of my life and continues to do so.
Why do I volunteer? I volunteer because it has made me a better person. I go into the projects with the idea of changing the world, but the world ends up changing me.