"Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart," said Elizabeth Andrews.
Volunteering is an integral part of my life. Having attended multiple Catholic schools for 16 years, followed by four years at a Jesuit Institution, the importance of helping others was prominent.
I began volunteering on a regular basis in high school. I took the bus downtown each week to help homeless youth and teens with homework. In college, I became involved with several local organizations; I worked intake and served meals at a women's overnight shelter. I participated in Habitat for Humanity. I organized food drives. I cleaned up local trails and parks with fellow classmates.
What was perhaps the most difficult, but also the most rewarding, was my volunteer work as an advocate for victims of sexual assault. This required me to help staff the 24-hour crisis hotline, in addition to meeting with victims in the hospital. This work was immensely challenging; it was heart breaking to hear the stories of victims. Meeting them at such a vulnerable time proved difficult, too. I often had to force myself to remain strong -- if I were to fall apart I would be of no use to them.
Upon graduating from college, my first priority was finding a job. After I began working full-time, I was somewhat dissatisfied with myself. I was lonely, having left most of my friends behind, but I also missed being involved in my community; I had forgotten how rewarding it could be.
I applied to several organizations and soon began mentoring local foster children. I was matched with one child and would meet with them on a weekly basis while they underwent treatment, participated in support groups, and lived and attended school with their peers. I met with my first "buddy" for nine months. I am thrilled to say that he has since been matched with a new foster family and is doing well.
Three months ago, I was matched with a second buddy. She is far less open with me, and we will sometimes go an entire visit without her speaking directly to me. I do not mind when this happens. I only hope that my time with her is as beneficial to her as it is to me.
However, these past few weeks have been far more successful. My buddy seems genuinely excited to see me (which immediately bring a smile to my face). I have learned more her interests and how she would like us to spend our time together. I know she aspires to be a singer, loves chicken nuggets, and has memorized the lyrics to every Justin Bieber song. Her favorite subject is Math and she looks forward to completing her homework each day.
There are certainly weeks where my commitment to volunteering feels overwhelming. I am too busy with my personal life or too tired to visit with her. Yet I know that each hour I spend with my buddy is valuable to both of us, and I simply do not have the heart to disappoint her.