Volunteer Work?

May 4, 2010
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I have always been a good kid. I keep my grades up, spend time with my family, and help out around my home and community. I do not get into trouble. So how did I find myself sitting in a courtroom’s uncomfortable witness chair, with the critical judge to my right, and the even more disparaging faces of my parents and peers staring awkwardly up at me?

Okay, so I guess the situation wasn’t really all that dramatic. This scene was actually just my County Teen Court hearing for a careless driving citation I had received. Me, careless? My only crime had been the accidental tapping of the bumper of a parked car with my own on a frigid winter morning while trying to pick up a friend for school. I already felt terrible enough, between the old man who owned the car’s quiet understanding, and my parent’s unspoken disappointment. I most definitely cared. Still, after a few tense minutes on the stand, I was sentenced to a defensive driving class, one jury duty session, and ten hours of community service.

At the time, I was no stranger to community service. In fact, ironically enough, I had actually served as a voluntary Teen Court “attorney” during the previous year. I was also, and still am, a dedicated member of Key Club International, Girl Scouts, National Honor Society, and Natural Helpers community service organizations. Within these groups over the years, I’ve done it all: picking up trash, making cookies for bake sales, dishing up food at fundraisers, sorting cans and boxes at food drives, and making crafts or reading with little kids, caring all the while. All these activities were extremely beneficial and rewarding to both the people I was helping as well as myself. Also, this fulfilling work really can be fun.
Above all, I love working with animals, like at animal shelters and humane societies. I’ve been vegetarian for three years, and, along with my family, have adopted five shelter dogs, and own and ride two horses, plus a rescued miniature donkey. Basically, I am an animal lover, who is disgusted at the terrible conditions countless animals are subjected to and am determined to drastically improve their circumstances. The most absolutely amazing animal rescue facility I’ve ever been involved with is the Soul Animal Sanctuary, which is located about an hour from where I live. There, one remarkably selfless woman takes in and cares for every type and temperament of animal imaginable. She does indescribably amazing work, which I wish I could help out so much more with and one day emulate.

So as I sat in my case manager’s cramped office, the walls pressing in on me, exposing my guilt, I already knew how I wanted to fulfill my community service hours. The middle-aged man suggested I help out at some golf tournament that coming weekend, and when I declined, I’m sure I sounded like every other “lost soul” who had ever passed through those courtroom doors. Perhaps I appeared apathetic, and disinterested with improving my life. This has never been the case.

The next day, I contacted my local animal shelter, since community service had to be performed directly within my immediate community, about fulfilling my sentence there, and showed up two days later, ready to work. The shelter staff set me to work on various petty tasks: cleaning dog runs, sanitizing cat cages, mopping the floor, taking out the trash, and shoveling snow were just a few of the lovely tasks entrusted to me. I don’t know what the staff thought of me. Did they see me as simply in the way? Was I helping at all? Did they think I was just another low-life teenager steered down the wrong path in life? Was I?

I came to realize that their opinion, or anyone else’s, for that matter, was irrelevant. All that mattered was that the animals were getting the help they so desperately needed and deserved. I myself found a strange sense of peace, as I filled the water dish of a shy and grateful cat, or calmed the relentless barking of a weary and protective dog with a soft touch. I’ve always loved and cared for animals, and if there was so much work to be done in my wealthy, small town shelter that rarely ever nears capacity, I can’t imagine all that’s left to do in less fortunate areas. I plan to do everything in my power to expand my influence and aid the innocent and deserving animals.

Although community service has always been a part of my life, my judicial experience opened me up to an entirely new angle on the work. It doesn’t matter where or how somebody gets involved in meaningful work, only that they do. Every individual is born with the utmost duty to care. Each person owes it to himself or herself and to the world to serve. Just remember, as you go about your service from day to day, be careful not to back into any parked cars.

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