“I was wondering, would you like to paint a mural for the elementary school?”
Before I knew it, those words would change my life for a whole year. My art teacher had watched me for the majority of a school year before approaching me to design and execute a mural for our school district’s elementary school, obviously a huge honor. I told her I would gladly do it and how flattered I was, but she reminded me that it was volunteer work. At first, I thought, “hey, it’s volunteering and I’m technically in charge of myself… This should be fine, right?”. But boy, was I oh, so very wrong. ‘The Mural’, as my friends and family have dubbed it, gave me an opportunity to learn about myself and just how important volunteer work is for a community.
After twelve months of long hours and tireless work, I’ll never forget the look on the elementary school’s principal’s face when I presented her with the mural. Her eyes welled up and she hugged me sideways while keeping her eyes on the canvas. She and the vice principal continued to thank me and my art teacher, repeating over and over how much the students would love it. The five minutes of speaking with them and their reactions that took my breath away and made my heart flutter is what made my year of hard work worthwhile. I told her that teachers, custodians, secretaries, students, and parents found me in the hallway, at sporting events, and even while I was painting to tell me what a great job I was doing. That I was doing the right thing. That I should be proud that I’m such a ‘good kid’.
Truthfully, I didn’t feel like such a ‘good kid’, whatever that means. I felt like I was flattered to be chosen and took the opportunity. I felt like I realized it would take a lot more work and effort than I wanted to put in. I felt like I wanted to give up. But I also felt like I bettered the community and that’s why I can now recognize the importance of volunteer work. Volunteer work isn’t about how you got into it, whether a friend told you to try working at the animal shelter with them, or you saw that the nursing home needed someone to run the bingo games, or your art teacher asked you to paint a mural. Volunteer work is about doing something for the greater good. Volunteer work is about helping others, but also about helping yourself learn about something irreplaceable.