Not-so-obvious: Benefits to volunteer work

When I went to the soup kitchen last semester, I got asked if I was there to volunteer or to complete community service hours – in other words, court mandated. I quickly said I was there to volunteer but really, it was mandated…just not by the courts.
I received a scholarship from my college but I only get the pay out if I complete 10 hours of volunteer work a semester and write a paper on my experiences. I’m all for volunteering but as a full-time student with two jobs and an internship not being told about requirements until after the money was taken off my tuition bill didn’t exactly excite me.
I had a relatively easy time last semester and wrote about all the joy it gives to volunteers to help the less fortunate. Basically what the scholarship committee wanted to hear. This semester was a bit different.

While “volunteering” last week, I was working with a group if kids in a juvenile correctional program. It’s not always the most comfortable situation to be in, but what I found more uncomfortable was the attitude of the program’s leader. He was berating the kids, forcing them to work harder, even though they were completing the assigned task just fine. It occurred to me then, helping feed the people of the city by volunteering at the food bank was not what the only group of people I could help.

Everyone has made mistakes in their lives, and these kids are certainly no different, but we all deserve a little respect, especially when we are doing the right thing. These kids have probably been yelled at and disrespected much of their lives, and in turn, retaliated with an action that landed them in the program. Just as importantly as feeding the community, I realized I could show compassion and respect to kids that seem to have very little in their lives, also help them.
Lending a listening ear, laughing at their young jokes, or simply offering a smile can help teach these kids that not everyone is against them – that some are actually rooting for their success. The result could be surprising.

So while I wasn’t so enthusiastic about being forced to fit volunteer hours into my already busy schedule, I’m glad I was able to realize the importance of respect – for all – in every situation I find myself in.

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