Can’t Always Volunteer In the Way You Want

We all have an image or idea that comes to mind as soon as we think of volunteering, don’t we? For me, I instantly think of pounding nails into the roof of a girls’ dormitory in Guatemala because I did that many years ago and had a great experience. I helped build a clinic in Mexico, and enjoyed that, too…except for my face swelling up after someone cut fiberglass and had it dusting up the place. I intended to go to Haiti on a humanitarian construction project this summer. But that didn’t pan out because this past spring, I developed ulnar neuritis, which basically makes it feel like you’ve hit your funny bone pretty much all the time. I now have to pay close attention to how best to lift a gallon of milk or the best angle to dry my hair or brush my teeth. Physical labor is not an option for a while…which, I realized, has been my primary mode of volunteerism.

So, I’ve found myself in a time of adjustment. Adapting to new circumstances is frustrating, but there are other ways to be of use, right? So, I’m in the volunteer ‘dabbler’ stage at the moment, trying out different things and seeing where I might fit. It’s been a bit of trial and error so far, with even stuffing programs proving too much of a repetitive motion for my stupid elbows. See? I still resorted to something physical, as minor as it was.

But, subtler, more cerebral things can be just as important as swinging a hammer…more so in many cases. Like promoting awareness and advocating for causes that matter to you. And there’s a need for what I would call more white collar skill sets. In an interview I did with a group in Kenya, working with AIDS orphans, they mentioned needing help with graphics, brochures, thank you cards, videos, websites and such. All stateside, from-home stuff that isn’t the first thing to come to my mind when I think of how I could ‘volunteer’, but necessary all the same. They need individuals to host drives to recruit sponsors for incoming students. Lots of options if you have any of those skill sets.

I’m trying to focus more on family and friends as well…trying to be a better listener and be supportive in whatever ways they might need. I’ve had no choice but to alter what I do, but maybe that’s not so bad.

What’s your instant image of volunteerism, and why?

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4 comments on “Can’t Always Volunteer In the Way You Want

  1. I think of soup kitchens. I’ve volunteered in a couple, but reading the book “Same Kind of Different as Me” changed everything for me when it comes to thinking about volunteerism and soup kitchens. To those who haven’t read it, it’s a must!

  2. I remember when I first started serving in the church, I thought that teaching toddlers would be fun – and maybe not as intimidating as older kids. Well, there wasn’t a need with the toddlers, and I was placed with the pre-teens. That was eight years ago, and now I would consider adolescent mentoring and confidence-building as a passion of mine. Funny how those things work.

  3. Love to hear these kinds of stories! It’s very encouraging that you found your niche in an area that you not only didn’t expect, but also found a bit intimidating at first. Great example of how stepping out of your comfort zone and being open can lead to great things!

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