Why I volunteer or … How I learned the world didn’t revolve around me
BY JAMIE NAKASONE
Do you ever reflect back on the things that made you the person you are today? Now that I’m in my late 40s, I find myself doing that a lot.
Up until graduating from high school, my life was nothing special. I was a shy, quiet girl, which means I never really got involved with clubs or sports. My real “formative” years started at college and went through my 20s. During that period, through necessity, determination, or desperation, I forced myself to do the things I shied away from in my younger days. And I’m glad I did, because they helped me become the person I am today.
One of the things I did during those years was join the Jaycees, a group dedicated to developing leaders through community service. This organization taught me that there was a lot more to life than trying to find a date or figuring out if I could afford that cool jacket at Wildflowers. Community service opens your eyes a little more to the world, to the realization that there are people out there who are less fortunate than you and that you have the power to help them, if only to make one day of someone’s life a little brighter than the last.
During my years in the Jaycees, we scoured the beaches for litter and braved steep, muddy mountain paths to help with maintaining trails for hikers. We held blood drives and went Christmas caroling at hospitals and care homes. We helped various charities with their special events and even organized a few from scratch.
But by far, the best community service experience I’ve ever had was when we visited two shelters for abused and battered women and their children.
At the first one we visited, we worked on the exterior of the shelter, painting the walls and generally cleaning the grounds. We also brought a large bag of stuffed animals for the children. My friend and I had to fight back tears as we saw the sad faces of the women and, by contrast, the delighted faces of their toddlers as each one pattered away with a soft new friend.
At the second shelter we visited, we held an Easter egg hunt for the children. My friends had so much fun hiding the eggs and then watching the kids find each one. The kids at this shelter were a little older, so we could talk and interact with them. My heart ached for the little boy who missed his father and kept talking about “when my daddy comes back.” My friends and I quietly wondered about an older boy, who despite scars and a limp, seemed friendly and cheerful. We laughed when he bonded with one of the guys in our group and started to follow him around.
Being involved with such a variety of community service projects with the Jaycees opened up my perspective of the world (and made for some great stories). For instance, slipping and sliding in the mud to do trail maintenance was no party for me (although some of my friends loved it), but at least I gave it a try. I gave my first pint of blood at one of the Jaycee-organized blood drives, and I continued to be a regular donor for many years. And of course, those unforgettable visits to the shelters.
The great thing about community service is that there is something for all tastes. If you just want to donate some of your time, you can do some office work for one of the charities. If you want to get outdoors, you can help with cleanups or clear some hiking trails. If you want to meet and interact with people, there are plenty of opportunities for that, too. It doesn’t matter if you help one person or 20, for one day or a whole month. The main thing is that you try to make a difference.
Jamie Nakasone is a correspondence specialist at HMSA. Her favorite pastimes are spending time with her husband, reading and playing pool. She is taking her journey to better health with tiny steps and although she describes herself as a “bungling” gardener, she hasn’t given up yet. Follow her on Twitter.