Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Volunteering in Uncertain Times

A friend called me yesterday who, since she’s been unemployed, has started volunteering at a women’s homeless shelter. She called me because every time she leaves her volunteer assignment, she feels bad and doesn’t know why. We talked about it for a little while.

“Is it because you feel like there are really big problems there that you can’t do much about?” I guessed. That's a feeling most of us can relate to these days, and it seemed worth a shot.

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe that’s it.” But actually, what was going on for my friend was closer to home than that.

It turns out that the most challenging thing for my friend about her volunteer assignment was learning to interact with unfamiliar people. This was a big issue for her in her life, and the volunteer assignment she chose was pushing all the right buttons to help her grow.

Even if things are uncertain in your own life, when you put yourself out there for others, you always get back what you need. As in my friend’s case, you often get things you didn’t even know you needed. This is counter-intuitive: volunteer inquiries were down for us about 60% in 2009 from last year, due to economic uncertainty. In hard times, people turn inwards - we don't know what's going to happen, we don't want to commit to anything new.

But this is exactly the time to reach out instead. Regardless of why they volunteer, what people get back is entirely more than they expect. I know a mentor who found a sense of community in a new city. I know a mentor whose mentee who reminds him of a younger brother who’d long since passed away. I know several mentors who found a pathway into new careers in service. I know a mentor whose mentee was her reason to stay present when her clinical depression threatened to come back. Or sometimes, like my friend, mentors simply get an opportunity to learn and grow. We learn patience, how to be a better listener, how to show up, how to let go. We teach our mentees new skills for their young lives, and in teaching, we learn new skills too.

One of the things I love best about Youth Mentoring Connection is that we really, really get this. We are absolutely dedicated to our youth, but we are also dedicated to helping mentors to grow in their capacity to give back. When people mentor with us, they get training, support, a program structure that works, and best of all, our staff’s cell phone numbers. Day or night, we got our mentors’ backs when they’re on this journey with our kids.

So, in this scary economy, why should you consider mentoring? Because you’ll love it, because it will change you, and because it is absolutely the best deal out there. Give of your time and you will get more than you bargained for. Learn more about volunteering with us.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it