Volunteering is a great gift, both to those who help and those who are helped. Volunteering is necessary and needed, more so than most people realize. Communities cannot flourish without those rare individuals who are willing to give of their time and expect nothing in return. Volunteering is rewarding because its results can be seen and felt for a long time.
My church is very involved in volunteering in the community. Our latest work was at the Firehouse Mission, which provides a bed for the night, dinner, breakfast and faith-based counseling to those who need it. The shelter is only for men. Each has access to toiletry items and a shower. Everyone signs in by 7 p.m. and can stay until 6 a.m.
Our duties included serving dinner, making breakfast, and distributing sheets and toiletries. I was not sure how I would feel being at the shelter since I had never been in one before and was overwhelmed when I arrived. I walked in to find a group of tables with men around them and my anxiety dissipated once I spoke to them. Most talked about whatever was on their minds including a recent football game and the weather. Our group could easily relate to these topics, which relieved our tension and the men’s. It helped them know we were not afraid and could treat them like anyone else.
We slept at the shelter that night so we could prepare breakfast the following morning. I was pleasantly surprised to see how grateful and polite the men were as we served their food. Each received a small portion but was happy for it nonetheless. Breakfast was one of only two meals many of them would eat that day, but no one complained. When it was time to leave, the men stood outside and thanked us for coming. Some even waved as we drove away.
These men realize the stigma and stereotypes associated with shelters and those who use them. They appreciated us serving them and, most of all, talking with them. Volunteering is an experience I enjoy. I realize that when I volunteer I will not change the world but I know that telling others about my experiences and encouraging you to volunteer will have an effect on a much larger scale.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.