Volunteering certainly has it perks. I know the point is to do it for the benefit of other people, but sometimes it can work out beneficially for everyone.
For instance: our office was supposed to come in and work on Saturday, but because I had signed up weeks and weeks ago to do a Habitat for Humanity build that day, I was excused. (I also pointed out that I might be more hindrance than help if I were to come in to work on this project that I don't actually know anything about).
Past volunteer experiences of mine have generally been coupled with some greater cause or notion (i.e. Jesus) or have been compulsory for my involvement in an organization (the National Honor Society, my sorority) and have always been an activity I shared with at least one other friend. I have never just up and decided to volunteer simply for the reason that I am willing, and able.
Notable volunteering opportunities that I remember, despite me doing them for credit:
-KLOV radio station "Hunger 2 Hope Telathon." The station set up a dozen phones in our youth group room, and I signed up for a few hours to come in and answer phones. I was really surprised by some of the conversations I had with people. One woman spoke in a hurried whisper, because she didn't want her husband to know she was calling and wanted to donate $10.
- Oregon Ballet something something. Melanie and I manned the merch table at The Nutcracker, I think.
- Sorority 5-K run/walk for EC Cares. I generally didn't run, or walk, but cheered people on from street corners with poorly painted signs.
- Sorority golf tournament for WomenSpace: I had to caddy for my dad the day after the only fist-fight I've ever been in. The bald spot where the bitch had stolen some hair from my skull ached all day. I was also livid at everyone who got to have fun, and ride around wasted on the golf carts, crashing into trees and harassing the beercart lady.
- 30 Hour Famine. I did this one twice, and was terrible at raising money for it, so I don't think it counts as a philanthropic effort, either. The first time I did it as a high schooler, and the second time I was also in high school, but was working with the middle school group. This was not fun at all, and was actually horrendously exhausting. We were not to eat anything for 30 hours, and in the midst of our hunger pains and cranky dealings with crankier middle schoolers, idly shoved boxes of food around a warehouse for a few hours. It was dusty, the boxes were heavy, and I was fucking starving. As soon as I left, I drove to the Giant Burger and got a double bacon- cheeseburger, a blackberry milkshake, and a large order of cajun fries. (Then I died and had to be resusscitated by removing large chunks of lard from my capillaries).
- Various mission trips which included putting in time at:
* A day-care/Vacation Bible School on an Indian Reservation in Montana (the memorable part of this was that we had to go around the rundown neighborhoods in the morning, knocking on people's doors to collect their children for the day. These adults, some already swaying into the doorjamb and reeking of grain alcohol, would shuffle their half-dressed, sticky children out the door into our care. At the end of the day, after dealing with some kids who kicked, spit, bit, escaped, cried, and sulked, we walked them home. Sometimes, this would take hours, as some of this children were too young to know how to get home). For those of us who were not built for such emotional trauma, we could paint dilapidated houses around town.
* An orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico. I really bonded with a little guy, until someone told me it was the cook's son. I felt cheated.
* An overnight camp for the residents of that same orphanage, two years later, in Ensenada. We basically continued construction on the camp, and got to act as camp counselors. On a day-trip to the beach, our old bus careened around the cliffside on a windy stretch of road. One of the orphanage workers pointed out the valley on our right, separated from us only by blue Mexican sky. Blanketing the bottom of the valley hundreds of feet below us were the remnants of rusted cars that had gone flying around these roads, and had hurtled to certain death in drunken, fiery blazes and high-impact crashes. We rode in stupified silence, wondering if for every upside down car in that valley was one corresponding child at the orphanage.
* Habitat for Humanity in Oakland, California. Not only did we have to worry about construction materials falling on us, we were concerned about getting shot. I somehow contracted strep throat, was prescribed Vicodin, still primed/painted the ceilings of a house all day long, and ended up picking paint flecks out of my scalp for two weeks.
The Habitat for Humanity experience couldn't have been all bad, as I signed up to work with them this last weekend. This time, there was no credit, no greater purpose that was spoken of. The work spoke for itself, as a dozen women shingled, put up siding, and installed skylights on a home for a single mother with three little boys. The best part is that it's a Women Build- meaning that only women have built this house (other than contracting for the foundation, and specialty electrical stuff). The women I met came from years of Air Force experience, mothering, wifeing, working, brokenness, boring jobs, failed careers, successful expressions of selflessness, adventure. We hammered and sawed alongside each other, and took pride in the placement of a single nail, of a centered bubble in a level.
We didn't have to talk about why we were there or who we were helping, it was clear that each woman was gaining as much from the sweat and the satisfaction of a job well done as she would have from acknowledging that she was building a safe place for another woman and her children.
It was good just to work.