I sit here waiting for something to come to me to describe what volunteer work is to me. I check my e-mail and read a letter from my thirteen-year-old cousin. He has just gotten back from a mission trip and vacation. I ask him how it was and he replies, “It was sooo cool. I especially liked doing the volunteer work for all the homeless of New York.” He has said it perfectly. While volunteer work often sounds boring and taxing, it never turns out to be so. Helping other people allows a person to see a new perspective and build confidence, and it can even give a person a much-needed boost of hope. And it can do the same to you.
I began officially volunteering at the age of eleven. No, this was not offering to weed the yard or cook dinner for my mother (though I’m sure that would have been just as much appreciated). My first volunteer job was at my old preschool. To give your time, or energy, or money, you have to be interested in what you are doing. So I began teaching. Since I was in second grade I have wanted to be a teacher, though now that I like school less and less, this is changing. Yet, I still love to be with kids. They have a sense of joy that can rarely be found in anyone older. Kids are so innocent to all that surrounds them, and they remind me every day to look at the little things in life. A tunnel in the sand. A piece of folded paper. A Lego castle. They help me see that our lives are beautiful even in the smallest ways.
I just finished my fifth summer at the preschool. It was the third year that I was with the same group of kids. It amazes me every time I go to see how much they have changed and grown. How quickly life goes by. I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to work with them. The school does not need my help, but it is welcomed. The classes are growing and it never hurts to have someone else around. To me, it does not matter if someone obviously needs help or asks for it. You can always give it. Volunteer work does not have to take place in a different town or country. It can simply be going over to your grandparents and spending time with them. Sometimes I go to visit our next-door neighbor to play harp for her. She sits at home all day, every day, and watches television. I know that just saying hello to her makes her day worthwhile.
I not only notice the benefits of volunteer work for other people, but for me as well. This summer, I traveled to Mexico with a group of people to our sister city. I was thrilled to practice my Spanish, meet incredible people, and learn about a new culture. We were there to help at numerous schools and build an even greater connection between our cities. People in the greatest need will open their hearts to you and give you indescribable appreciativeness. I would go back in a second.
Next summer, I plan to go to Latin America for two months to work on a service project. I am sure this experience will be the best yet. I will give my best effort to help as many people in as many ways as I can. Maybe I will teach English, or build something to benefit the town, or take photographs. In doing so, I will learn new skills and encounter new things. Most important, though, I will be making someone’s life that much better.
Share your own story here. Sharing stories is a powerful way to connect with other people. Be part of the Young Entrepreneurs Story (YES) Project—like Joella did above—and share your successes, challenges, and advice with other young leaders and entrepreneurs.