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Peanutbutter and Jelly Sandwiches

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." -- Dr. Seuss

I never started high school with the intention of joining as many community service clubs as I could find. I never planned on having over 750 hours of service by the end of my junior year. I never thought giving someone a PB&J sandwich could change my life so completely.
I did, however, start high school scared – scared of the new faces, of the future, of graduating, of not graduating, even of the school food. And it wasn't until my friend forced me to join my school's Key Club a couple months into the year that those fears began to dissipate (although the school food still terrifies me). Attending my first Key Club event – a 4:00 AM to 12:00PM race to raise money for breast cancer – changed everything. I worked those hours alongside people I had never met, all of us working toward a common goal. For what seemed like the first time in my life, I was a part of something wonderful, something special; I was a single tile in a beautiful mosaic or a key word in a good song. And I knew I had to do more.

After that event, I began spending almost all of my free time doing things around the community, at first only with Key Club, and then, later, with other clubs and even alone. The scared kid I was at the beginning of Freshman year seemed as remote to me as my own reflection. That younger version of myself, the fear I had felt, no longer controlled me, but made me work harder to ensure that I was never that kid again.
I began volunteering with other community service clubs on campus, so many in fact, that I became “that volunteer kid”. It didn't bother me at all. I loved what I was doing and that's what mattered. Sophomore year I joined my school's Red Cross, and this past year was my first as an Event Coordinator/Representative. Through this position, I am able to help other, like-minded people do amazing things around the community, leading other kids at events very similar to the breast cancer race where I had first found my passion for service work. Knowing that I have the power to inspire someone just as the other volunteers first inspired me is a crazy feeling.

When school clubs were no longer enough to fulfill my need to help, I sought out other opportunities like volunteering at my local animal shelter, where I walk and socialize the dogs awaiting adoption as well as the less glamorous tasks of helping clean kennels, do laundry, clear drains, etc. I can proudly say that I've been scooping poop for three years now and I regret nothing. I also began volunteering at the Boy's and Girl's Club, assisting the rangers at a local nature center, tutoring elementary school kids at my local library, handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless downtown (my city has one of the three highest homeless rates in the nation), all of which brought me closer to people I never would've met otherwise. Sitting down and listening to a middle-aged woman talk about how she ran away at thirteen and has been homeless ever since is something was a slap in the face. It was painful and heartbreaking but also powerful and thought-provoking and, above all, inspiring. Stories such as that is what keeps me wanting to give back and do something, to hand that man sitting on the sidewalk with a couple of plastic bags containing everything he owns a sandwich.

Through my volunteer work I not only overcame my fear of new people, but discovered what I wish to do in the future. Last year I began volunteering at the San Diego Zoo, a place that I have always been able to wander around for hours and never cease to be amazed. Thanks to this experience, I now know I want to go into zoology. I've shared important conservation messages to zoo guests who come from every corner of the world, fed rhinos, and most important to me – learned. That's what is so amazing and surprising about everything I do.
Volunteering isn't about earning that 100 hour graduation requirement or even about feeling important. It's about commitment, and compassion, and finding within yourself a passion for something or the inspiration to seek out more from life. The desire to help is not a scratch that can be itched, or a thirst that can be quenched, but something greater and more profound that will stay with me, I know, for the rest of my life. 100 hours will never be enough for me and neither is 750. Although it's never easy, helping others is always, always worth it.



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