Every Monday and Wednesday, he rolls out of bed at 6:30 in the morning so that he can get downtown and pick up donations by 9. On Thursdays, he’s out the door by 7 so that he can volunteer at the local hospital. Rain or shine, in the hottest weather or the coldest, he’s up and at ‘em before most of our alarms even go off.
My grandpa volunteers more in a week than most of us do in a year. He’s on two different committees, a falls prevention coalition, and even helped to start a nonprofit, the Hunger Task Force of La Crosse, in his town that has been helping to feed the less fortunate for the past 22 years.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve spent my summers volunteering with him. I get up at the crack of dawn three times a week. Twice, we drive a smelly old van to three local grocery stores to pick up their food donations, and on Thursdays we spend four hours at the hospital, pushing people in wheelchairs from one destination to another. These hours and hours spent giving back to a community that has shaped me more than anywhere else have given me a lot. I’ve learned more about my grandpa – his life, his passions, his greatest fears and greatest accomplishments – in the Hunger Task Force van than I have anywhere else. I’ve made friends with the other people who volunteer at the hospital, and even gone on a mini road trip with two of them.
Despite all of the amazing things that I’ve gained during these hours of selflessness, my favorite thing about them is that they don’t count towards my community service hours. All of the hours I have spent over the summers have been completely out of the goodness of my heart – no ulterior motives, no hours sheets needed to be signed off on.
As much as we all volunteer, we don’t gain much from it. We go to the event, we get our hours, and we leave. We’re not worried about who we’re helping, or why, or if we can help them more. We’re worried about getting that one extra cord at graduation.
In our constant pursuit of volunteer hours and resume builders, so much is lost. When all we truly care about is graduating with 100 hours, our genuine care about our community takes a hit. I’ll admit, I’m working to get my last few service hours just as much as the next junior, but I recognize the lack of authenticity.
Next time you volunteer, give it your full attention. Pay attention to your surroundings. Make small talk with the people you’re volunteering with. Ask questions about who your hours are helping, and why. As good as your hours on top of hours will look on a resume, being a genuinely interested citizen will look even better, and you may just find some of that fulfillment that we’re all searching for.