At one point in everyone’s life, we have all met that person that tries to shove volunteering down your throat. And in that moment, we have all wanted to punch that person in the face. I promise I’m not a super aggressive person, I’m just saying it like it is. But today, I am going to be that person. Not the one that wants to punch someone in the face, but the person that people want to punch in the face. Because I truly and sincerely believe that volunteering is an opportunity that everyone should engage in. The thing is, I’m not going to shove volunteering down your throat. I just want you to consider the idea of it. I’m not going to tell you to dedicate your whole life to volunteering or to drop everything you enjoy to volunteer. I’m just saying that in some point in your life, if the opportunity to volunteer arises, you should take it. It will in some way, shape, or form change your life.
For the past two years, I have been volunteering at the hospital local to my university. There were many different reasons why I started volunteering. One of these reasons being that I have always wanted to volunteer. I like to help people. But I would be lying if I said that was the only reason. As a Biomedical Sciences major I wanted to immerse myself in a hospital environment. Considering I am wildly indecisive, I thought the experience would give me a better idea of what career I may want to pursue in my future. Another part of me, as much as I hate to admit it, knows that volunteering looks good on applications. I would be lying if I said that those thoughts never crossed my mind. I also just so happen to love working with kids. I didn’t realize how much I even liked to work with kids until I started volunteering. For the past two years I have been volunteering in the paediatric wings at the hospital. And as cheesy as it sounds, no matter how good or bad my day is, it always cheers me up to try to cheer them up.
So maybe, in a way, I was largely influenced to volunteer by the career aspect of my brain. Not that I never wanted to help or be a volunteer but those reasons may not have been the only, initial, driving factor. For people that want to check out an opportunity, volunteering is a great way to know if you will enjoy the environment you are looking into. I may have initially been interested in volunteering to expose myself to a new environment but that’s not the reason why I continue to go back. The funny thing is, those previous initial driving factors have been completely replaced by other reasons. I truly look forward to volunteering every week. And I am truly disappointed if I can’t make my three and a half hour commitment if I am sick or for any other emergent reasons. Volunteering, as typical as it sounds, has made me a better person. It has forced me to see the practice of empathy and gratitude to a greater extent. It has forced me to see that no matter how bad something is, a smile and laugh can take anyone a long way. And I am sure, that if you were to try volunteering as well, you would find the same thing.
Volunteering has emphasized that being there for someone, giving someone company to lessen their burdens, is the greatest gift you can give to anyone. The patients I work with have taught me so much. And yes, maybe the majority of the patients I work with are less than half my age, but they have a refreshingly different perspective on life. The thing is, there’s lessons all around us, sometimes we just need to open our eyes a little wider to see them. It’s hard not to be grateful for anything in your life when you see a 4 year-old with a central line attached, smiling, chatting and playing happily. They are incredibly strong. Maybe some of the strongest people I have ever met. They inspire me. And I can only hope that I can lighten their pain even to the slightest extent.
It’s not only the strength of the patients that I find incredible; it’s the strength of the families as well. In the wings that I have volunteered in, we are fortunate enough to see that most families regularly come to visit their kids. To many of you, this might be expected, to visit your kids regularly. But you also have to consider that these parents are jumping through hoops to visit their kids. For extended periods of time they are juggling and rearranging work schedules, matching schedules with their spouse, arranging care for their other kids while they aren’t home and for most families, the hospital isn’t exactly just a walk down the street. All the while, they are keeping a brave face for their kids even though it is breaking their hearts to see their baby in pain. These are all the things the volunteer form doesn’t tell you. And these are all the reasons why you should volunteer. These are the things that can’t be told. They have to be felt. They have to be witnessed.
Maybe not everyone is comfortable with hospitals and that’s ok. There’s lots of places to volunteer. Heck, my brother volunteers at a brewery! Not all types of volunteering are for everyone either. We all have our own interests and passions. It’s important to volunteer for something you are passionate about. That’s how you can truly indulge yourself in the experience. If you engage yourself as a volunteer, I promise you will learn something new about yourself, of the people around you or you will find a different perspective. Maybe you will even find all three of these things.
So if you were considering volunteering before you read this, I hope you do. If you never thought about volunteering until now, I hope you consider it. If you are already a volunteer, I hope you are having an amazing experience. And if you take anything from this post at all, I hope that you remember that the greatest gift of all is to lessen the burden of another.