Sara Klimek

If there was one thing that I remember from applying to college, it was that I needed to have a diverse mix of academic, leadership, and service pursuits on my resume.  Our teachers gave us handouts for soup kitchens, nursing homes, and other organizations that were practically begging for volunteers.  Many of my peers volunteered solely to complete this quota for graduation and after they finished, they quit.

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Not only does this create an endless cycle of organizations looking for volunteers and then having to rehire almost immediately, but it creates a notion that people only help others when it’s convenient for them.  We’re less inclined to help and give back in our communities when we don’t benefit and in turn, we create a culture that rewards selfishness and privilege.

But, there’s nothing I can say to convince you that helping others is a moral obligations.  Choosing to live a life of service is just that: a choice.  It’s all about what and who you prioritize.  I can say that volunteering and committing to small projects has numerous benefits for everyone involved.  The amount of time you put into the project is completely up to you, meaning that if you work a 60-hour-week, adding another 10 hours for service may not be practical.

‘Service’ has a broad definition.  It can be as simple as giving gift bags to the homeless with socks and shower supplies, or it can be as intricate as painting a mural for a community center.  Taking small steps to help others can be considered service.  For example, offering to ‘pay-it-forward’ at your local Starbucks could be considered service.

Many people choose to give back to organizations and people that they are familiar with.  I’m a volunteer with 4-H, a national youth development program aimed at improving leadership, civic responsibility, and bettering the lives of its members.  I serve as a mentor for my local county camp, teen program, and for our annual fair.  My involvement has stemmed back ten years from when I was a first-year 4-H camper at the New London County 4-H Camp.  Now, I’m a second-year staff member who is responsible for teaching kids how to identify trees, shoot archery, and build lifelong friendships with others.  Perhaps my most important job, however, is to help mentor the next generation of youth leaders.  As a camper, I always looked up to my counselors and dreamed to be a member of camp staff.  Now, it is my turn to leave a positive impact on the lives of children.  I wouldn’t be the person I am without my 4-H involvement, and it has become such a large part of my life that I can’t imagine who I would be without it.  My personal motto is: Give back the same experiences I had as a camper to others.  Not only is it morally uplifting to help campers tie their shoes or learn a song, but it fosters a continuum of 4-H in my community.

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Religious groups and mentorship programs are always looking for successful people to spread knowledge to future generations.

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One of my favorite things about volunteering is that you can align your service to your interests.  If you like animals, you can volunteer to run a table at a local grocery store to collect donations.  If you’re doing some cleaning at your house and have old towels, you can donate them to an animal shelter.  If you enjoy painting and art, you can help a local youth program teach their kids how to draw.  If you’re a master-carpenter, you can look into helping a local Habitat for Humanity that builds homes for those in need.  Religious groups and mentorship programs are always looking for successful people to serve as community ambassadors and spread knowledge to future generations.

It's important to look beyond the LinkedIn benefits of volunteering in your community.  There are so many emotional and social benefits you can gain!  Whether meeting new professional contacts, people with similar interests, or friends in unlikely places, service can give you so many opportunities to give back to the people who have already given you so much.  Our world needs more considerate and passionate people- and you never know when someone (or one of your campers) may return that favor.

 

Sara is a managing editor at bSmart and student at the University of Vermont.  She plans on attending law school following graduation.

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