The words “service” and “volunteering” can stir up powerful feelings. For me, these words are embedded in who I am, where I’ve come from and what I stand for. In honor of National Volunteer Week, I thought I’d share with you my story of service and I even got a few of my inspiring coworkers to cough up theirs.
Service in the Big City
When reflecting on how service and volunteer has shaped my life, I realized that I couldn’t even count all the ways that my parents demonstrated service in my life. I tried to list all the ways I remember them volunteering when I was a child – at church, at school, leading Boy Scouts, founding a Camp Fire group, coaching sports, teaching early American history, and the list goes on. What I realized is that I don’t think they ever saw what they were doing as “service” or “volunteering.” They were acting as members of a community, giving back and getting involved in the best ways they knew possible. It’s easy to take that stance when you live in a community of 5,000 people. You know everyone. They know you. And they are not afraid to volunteer you for things!
Moving to a big city (Washington, DC, is 150x the size of Berlin, WI) means so many more opportunities to volunteer, but it often means that you’re on your own to take the initiative. I moved here to do an AmeriCorps program through Lutheran Volunteer Corps and was fortunate enough to live a year surrounded by other service-minded people. I spent that year learning to understand what service meant to me, and not just emulating what my parents or peers did. I don’t think I’ll ever move back to Berlin, but I will try to find a community and serve that community however I can, no matter where I end up.
The Constant Coach
Growing up playing sports, coaches were some of the most important and influential people in my life. I have vivid memories of my coach’s advice, intense looks, high fives and (on good days) laughs, so since I was old enough to drive, I’ve taken time to coach. My teams have ranged in age from elementary school to adults and everything in between, in soccer, basketball, and currently ultimate frisbee. Across this spectrum of age and skill, I’ve learned that the act of volunteering, of consistently showing up with the intent of helping people, is the most rewarding and appreciated part.
Paying it Forward
I grew up watching my mom volunteer frequently – she mentored two boys for several years that became like family to me. When I went off to college, I quickly followed her lead and began volunteering for an outdoor mentoring program for middle schoolers. For me, service has always been a responsibility. I have been so fortunate to live the life I lucked into and I feel a deep responsibility to pay it forward somehow. Now that I’m an adult (or getting there), making service a part of my life is still a priority. Whether it’s volunteering for nonprofit boards or taking the time for more direct service, I plan to continue finding ways to serve others.
“Being Part of Something Bigger”
In a meeting about internship opportunities my professor once said, “Don’t climb up the ladder Daniil, just to pull it up after yourself.” Helping others find their way and achieve their potential is how each of us can ensure that the work we do and the communities we create don’t end with us. For me service is a way of being a part of something bigger.
A Service Vacation
Outside of doing regular mentoring with women in the community (nothing formal, but I work with a couple women regarding career and relationship stuff) my biggest service story is heading over to Malaysia a few years ago on a Habitat for Humanity build.
The 12 of us (all strangers at the beginning of the trip) worked for a couple weeks building a 2 bedroom, 4-room home for a family of 5 outside of Kuching. The family had been living in a 2-room shack made of (rotting) split bamboo. The home they live in now is concrete construction (cinder block), with poured concrete floors and has their first flush toilet and shower. They worked along side us every day and provided snacks, coffee and lunch – the lunch was usually fish or chicken (from their own stash of chickens). Connie, the mom, would get up at 5am and start preparations and take their scooter in to town to purchase food since they had no electricity for refrigeration. Previous to joining Habitat, they had been saving for 5 years to buy cinder blocks – in the 5 years they saved they were able to purchase 10 cinder blocks. My Habitat trip was far and away the best vacation I’ve ever taken.