Last year, as a freshman, I was encouraged to join a club as a way to meet people. I chose Character Education, a group of students willing to volunteer five hours during a six-week period. Volunteering entailed helping individuals and the community.
My first experience was at the Salvation Army soup kitchen that operated Sundays from 3-6 p.m. with dinner served promptly at 4:30. I arrived just as the doors opened but before I started serving meals, there were other jobs to do. In a gym I set out food on tables so those being served could pick it up after dinner, then I set the tables. As I was doing this I was shocked to see how many people began to pour in at 4 p.m., their ages ranging from two to 70.
When I was done preparing tables, I went to the kitchen and helped get food ready. My heart dropped when I realized how many needed this kind of help. I felt guilty for never having to think about where my dinner would come from. While serving, though, that feeling left as people smiled at me. I realized I was happy and proud to be helping.
With dinner served, I was encouraged to sit and talk with our guests. I was unsure of myself and of the potential conversation, but as soon as I sat down, the uneasiness was replaced with laughter at their jokes or witty comments about current events and life. While talking with them, I realized they were not bitter to be there but thankful they had a place to go for a good meal. They were really no different from me, just in a harder place in life.
As I cleaned tables, two elderly women came over. One patted me on the back and thanked me, saying, “What a nice girl you are, giving up your Sunday afternoon to help us. Thank you!”
I smiled and told her it was my pleasure. I realized that these three hours were some of the most well-used hours of my life. Had I not been there helping, I probably would have been doing what most teenagers do: shopping, going to the movies or hanging out with friends. I smiled as they walked away because I knew the three hours I had spent at the soup kitchen really did affect people in my community. And I was changed, too. I had the desire to help people. It is a beautiful thing to know you’re doing something to help others.
Walking out of the soup kitchen, I decided I would go back the next week. A year and a half later, I am still volunteering there as well as doing many other projects to help my community. I have certainly completed more than my five-hour quota!
I suggest you give a bit of yourself, even if it’s just a smile. Sometimes the simplest things can change another’s day in a positive way. Imagine what the world would be like if we all put some energy into helping those in need - what a wonderful place it would be!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.