Friday, May 29, 2015

Yes, I volunteered the day of my college graduation...

I think ever since I was a kid, I had a giving and selfless heart. So, it doesn't surprise me that I want to do so much good in this world by volunteering or making a difference. However, I've noticed that so many people seem shocked by the fact that a 25 year old spends most of her time (and a lot of money) on these efforts simply for the reason of "just because." In high school I really started to be interested in service type fields (might explain why I'm a teacher now) and wanted to get volunteer hours. Without having much control over my life in high school due to money, transportation, work, etc. I didn't really get to volunteer like I wanted to. So when I went to college I decided to branch out. I joined an environmental organization called Love Not Litter that cleaned the UWG campus and the streets of Carrollton. I ended up becoming co-president for 2 years and dedicated a LOT of Fridays to cleaning up trash left by inconsiderate others or manning the recycling on campus. I literally had to sort through a bag of messy recyclables (and sometimes trash that was improperly placed) into the different material types without getting stung by a yellow jacket. Then I loaded all of it in my car and took it to the off campus recycling center to properly recycle the items. Was this fun? Typically no, it was not fun. Did I feel it was necessary? YES! People probably thought I was crazy for being this 20 year old taking my time to sort dirty, bug infested recyclables. However, I felt it was something I needed to do because if I didn't do it who would? 
Then my sophomore year I really wanted to start volunteering at an animal shelter. I couldn't bring my pets to my dorm room so that meant I had to leave my babies an hour and a half away at my dad's house. It broke my heart to be away from my childhood pets. So I figured volunteering at the shelter would help fill that void for the time being, plus I could help out animals in need. I did this until I graduated from college. In fact after my morning graduation, before packing up my last bit of stuff and heading home, I went to the shelter and brought along my sister and mom. I spent pretty much every weekend that I was out in Carrollton at the shelter. Sometimes it was just Saturday and sometimes it was both Saturday and Sunday. I would at least be there between 3-8 hours total every weekend. I pretty much became a regular at the shelter. The workers knew me and trusted me to just do my thing while I interacted with the animals. The inmates who are assigned to help at the shelter started to realize I was a regular volunteer. A few of them started to question why I came to the shelter so often. "Do you need hours for college?" was a common question I received. I actually didn't really document the hours at all because I wasn't just volunteering for hours. I would get praise from older volunteers or workers saying, "It's great that you wake up early and come here to help out." I mean think about what the majority of college students are doing on their weekends...partying, sleeping-in, getting into trouble, maybe studying or being productive. That wasn't who I wanted to be and still not who I am to this day.

Which leads me to present time... 
I really missed working with the animals. I felt like again, if I wasn't there socializing the animals, who else would? I almost made it like it was my duty to get out there and make a difference in some way. So, I finally got into volunteering at the Gwinnett shelter last Summer. I've also been involved in a special needs Summer camp (Camp Dream) for 3 Summers as well because that's extremely rewarding too! Then of course, I also foster for a rescue and spend some Sundays at adoption events when my furbabies become adoptable.

So why do I do this? I don't get paid. I don't earn something fun for all these racked up hours. I don't do this for attention or praise. It's not like I was so bored that I had nothing to do. I was an overload student for 2 semesters (21 and 20 credit hours), held a leadership position, had a job, and still made a 4.0 in both of those semesters. With my current job as a teacher, my weekends are literally consumed by lesson plans and catching up with life at home. So I definitely don't have all the time in the world like people might think.

I do this because volunteering is honestly one of my greatest enjoyments in life. Like I said before, I feel like it's my duty. I hear so many people say, "Oh, I couldn't do that; I'd be too sad." Do you think volunteering doesn't ever affect me emotionally or mentally? If so, then you're wrong. I've cried at the shelter, on the way home from the shelter, and at home multiple times. I get so invested in these creatures that it does hurt sometimes. I have even recently gotten to the point of facing some bouts of anxiety before going to the shelter because I know the reality. However, I still force myself to go because I'll feel even worse from the guilt of not going. I have a mindset that this world needs me more than I need it and honestly that's kind of what keeps me going each day. 

I don't want to wake up and feel insignificant as only a taker in this world. I don't want to be selfish and inconsiderate. Although my investment in animals and volunteering might make me different from others my age and sometimes I feel lonely because I don't really fit in with my age group, at least I can go to bed each night feeling good about myself in this world. I did something. I did a lot of things to make a difference.

With all that said, I still don't feel like it's enough in my opinion. People are so shocked by someone my age being so involved, but in my opinion I have to do more. It's actually become my life goal and motivation through hard times. I don't see it as me being a "hero" or such a kind person...I see it as this is how I am supposed to be!

By the way, I don't say any of this to brag or gain gratitude. Volunteering in itself is it's own reward, so I don't need praise or recognition. People just don't seem to understand why I am the way I am, so this kind of breaks it down a bit. 
If you have gone through a rough patch in your life or feel down about yourself/life, I HIGHLY suggest volunteering. It is truly life altering when you know you are making a positive impact in a negative world.

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