Each month, my mom and two of her close friends provide dinner for the Battered Women’s Shelter of my hometown, Gastonia, NC. They started volunteering regularly when I was in high school, and since then she’s managed to continue the commitment throughout her hectic life—after all, teachers don’t stop working when the kids go home! For my mom, volunteering became an outlet through which she was able to give back selflessly. Throughout my life, I’ve watched my mom and dad help others in meaningful, but always anonymous ways. As college students we have that time structured for us through the clubs and organizations we become involved in, so it’s encouraging to see my mom make time for giving back, even with a full-fledged career.
However, I don’t mean for this post to solely shine a spotlight on all of my mom’s good deeds—although there are many that I’m leaving out here. Instead, I want to bring this mentality to life within my circle of friends—and larger, my generation. We spend so much time in high school and college volunteering for the organizations with which we’re involved on campus that it feels as though we’ve lost the organic connection and reason for giving back in the first place. It’s not for the hours of service we receive to put on our resumes, nor for the Experiential Education credit we fulfill. It’s about making a connection to the people within the community in which we live in order to truly make a difference. Giving back for my parents’ generation was not performed for the awards garnered as a result. It was done out of sheer generosity. If my friends and I make an effort to get involved in the community we’re a part of now, it’s so much more likely to become a habit that we want to continue into our adult years, wherever we may go.
There are more ways to give back to a community other than cooking dinners. There are many other opportunities to provide a fun outlet for underprivileged children to express themselves through community sports programs. Habitat for Humanity is always looking for volunteer builders. The Salvation Army and Goodwill are always taking clothing and furniture donations. The possibilities are endless, but one thing is for certain: if you choose to give back, the connection you make will be one that surpasses anything ever built before. It’s one you take with you wherever you may go.
One thing my mother always ingrained in my sister and myself was good citizenship: recognizing that it’s your responsibility to be an active, positive member in your society. From small things like putting your shopping cart back in the right place to taking the time to physically volunteer somewhere. Her rational response as to why she gives back was political, she explained:
I believe that capitalism, while individualistic in nature, requires citizens to support one another in order to support the larger system. In this regard, everyone must make an effort to help their fellow citizens. As adults, there are organizations in every community that require volunteers in order to continue their mission. There are avenues for young adults as well to start learning how and where to help out. Organizations such as the Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs, Community Relief Organizations, Salvation Army, Homeless Shelters and Battered Women’s Shelters.
However, the more you talk to her about her efforts, the more she shows her emotion involved:
I have always enjoyed making a delicious and nutritious meal for my family and several years ago it was brought to my attention that the women and their children living at the battered women’s shelter were in need of healthy dinners. Although I have a designated time each month when a meal is scheduled for me to deliver, when we make a big pot of soup, chili, spaghetti, or roast, etc. I always keep the shelter in mind and deliver to them what we have left. Not only have I gained by getting to know the selfless volunteers there and by feeling good about giving; I know that the folks at this shelter are able to hopefully sleep more soundly by eating my healthy, delicious dinner. It does not take much more time/money to accommodate their needs – just a little bit more planning is all!
Do you think that requiring students to volunteer undermines their motivation to do it in the future? When I asked my roommates this question, they all agreed that making volunteering a requirement throughout middle school and high school caused them to see it as a reward-driven system of which they might not make time for later in life. However, when I asked my mom the same question, she expressed her belief that the wide range of volunteer opportunities available to students actually allows them to figure out which community service outlet they’re passionate about; encouraging them to pursue it in the future. Whatever the motivation, I believe that giving back in all aspects is a commendable and wonderful deed that should turn into a lifelong pursuit.
Cheers to happiness and kindness,