I remember growing up Catholic and loathing the idea of volunteering my time for our church. I had no choice. If I even considered the idea of ditching, the wrath of mother would be enough to set me straight. However, outside of church obligations, you would never catch me spending my weekend cooking, selling things, cleaning, or moving things (all things I didn’t enjoy) for people I didn’t know or couldn’t relate to. I always thought about where else in the world I'd rather be. Sleeping... shopping at the mall... doing anything but helping other people.
That mindset didn’t shift until I was 21, when I started my internship with Kula for Karma. Kula for Karma is a platform for volunteer yoga instructors who are passionate about offering their skills to people in need. These people include cancer patients, veterans, people in substance abuse recovery, and special needs youth to name a few. I was blown away by the commitment of Kula’s volunteer yoga instructors. There were many instructors who had been volunteering on a weekly basis for years! There were a few who were traveling long distances to teach these classes, and many who had gone through all types of facility vetting processes (blood work, orientations, etc.) to be involved. I kept asking myself: Why do they keep doing this? What keeps them coming back? Don’t these people have lives? How do they make the time? I was a full-time student then and couldn’t fathom making room in my own schedule to volunteer… but I knew the only way I could answer these questions was if I gave volunteer teaching a shot.
Those questions were all answered for me in January 2015. I had been volunteering for Kula for Karma on an as-needed basis, working inside schools, seniors centers, and some hospitals. However that winter, I found my people. I found people that were in need of help, but more importantly, I found people whose shoes I could see myself walking in. Everything clicked for me when I started working with women in substance abuse recovery. I was willing to complete any testing or paperwork to get inside the facility. I reorganized my schedule so that I could be there on days convenient for the women. I didn’t mind the drive or the traffic. Almost 2 years later, my heart is still entirely invested in the work I do at Integrity House. When I reflect over my shift from loathing volunteerism to adoring it, 3 important points came up for me:
1. Figure out what you can give
Volunteering wasn’t attractive to me in my early years for many reasons. I was young and immature, but I also wasn’t volunteering my time doing things that I enjoyed. Although it was clear that others were benefiting from me selling things or cooking for them, I disliked those tasks so much that it didn’t seem worth it for me. It wasn’t until I started volunteering my time doing something I loved, like teaching yoga, that made volunteering so valuable. When you figure out what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing, then idea of giving that away for free is so much more rewarding.
2. Find your people
Its important to help everyone and anyone in need, but for me, volunteering didn’t become essential until I started helping people I could relate to. As kind as it was for me to clean the homes of the elderly, I felt more fulfilled teaching yoga to women I could identify with. The ability to see myself in someone else who was struggling is what kept me coming back.
3. It comes back to you
The best way I can describe this is through example: when my house burned down, my family and I were overwhelmed with how many people came forward with help and donations; some of whom we didn’t know or hadn’t spoken to in decades. When we asked them why they reached out, people said it was because “you guys are members of the community who are always helping others.” I truly believe if you pour some good into another’s cup, when yours is empty that good will come back to you… and that is good enough drive to keep volunteering.