Not Being “Allowed” to Volunteer

Follow me on Instagram @mynameisreb
Follow me on Instagram @mynameisreb

When I look back on my life, I try to retrace my steps and think about what I had done that led me to where I am today. While in-between jobs last summer, I connected some dots and realized that volunteering and community service was a core component of who I am today. However, I’ve found that holding a full-time salary job and trying to volunteer on a regular basis extremely challenging, let alone the fact that all the “good” gigs get grabbed quickly, especially in NYC. Being a Girl Scout for thirteen-some-odd years, a participant in my Catholic school/parish’s mandated community activities, Treasurer of my high school’s Key Club, member of Progressive Students’ Union at Hofstra, and my tenure at MKG (where volunteering a requirement in order to get your yearly bonus), volunteering and service something I’ve been used to doing on a regular basis. For many of the volunteering activities I did, there may have needed to be an application or interview process, but I was spoiled in being able to take on whatever volunteering positions I wanted.

At FindSpark, we always encourage volunteering as a viable option to get more experience, whether offering free work, working through an organization like Catchafire, or just to expand your network. When I was in-between jobs last summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was most passionate about. I realized that as nice as it was to volunteer one day a  year to get my bonus, I wanted to make an ongoing commitment to an organization. I also thought about how I’ve always been passionate about working within the music or arts industry, especially at museums.  That’s when I started searching for volunteering opportunities within the arts and with children.

My favorite volunteering activities throughout my life have also been involved with libraries, art museums, teaching art classes, hanging out with kids, etc.  I come from a family of teachers and most of my summer jobs have been as a camp counselor, plus I worked as a Museum Educator at LICM for three years. To work with children and encourage their passion for art was something I have been wanting to do my whole life, especially with the increasing disappearance of art programs within schools. I also thought that I could turn this volunteering opportunity into the start of a new career path in the arts. I discovered the organization Free Arts NYC, which provides arts programming for children in low-income families. I signed up and started the application process.

In all seriousness, the application process was more extensive than getting a driver’s license, passport, and applying for a job all at once. I had to fill out two applications, get a background check, get interviewed twice, sat in on two volunteer orientation meetings and trainings and volunteered to be a part of two programs. Lo and behold – I was applying with 30 other volunteers for three spots for one program (did not make the cut) and the other program had no available spots outside of 9 – 5, Mondays through Fridays. The other possible-volunteers who applied with me ranged from young, twenty-somethings fulfilling a class requirement to well off women (I’ll say it, bored housewives) to freelancers / part-timers hoping to fill their days doing something. We all appeared to genuinely want to “be part of the difference”, “save the arts”, or “save the children”.

NYC = competition, in everything from dating to work to apartments. Now I know that volunteering gigs fall under that as well, especially ones that involve art and children, which must be the most popular type of volunteering out there. I don’t want to fall into thinking that I “deserved” the volunteer position more than others (former camp Arts & Crafts Director, LICM Museum Educator, and camp counselor for eight years = please), but the evil part of my mind suspected whether there were some of the people wanted to “hug orphans” and get a photo taken versus wanted to do something bigger than themselves. Essentially, New York City gives you the impression that the only way to volunteer or give back is either you have no job or have oodles of money to donate to tons of causes.

While there are many types of volunteering opportunities out there, part of me would like to do something that leverages the skills and expertise that I already have, not waving people to walk into a straight line. I also don’t want to just fundraise for a cause, but actually have hands-on involvement (fundraising makes me think of ladies who lunch, who call it charity work but really just throw a party and get donations from their rich friends. I’ll never be a UES housewife – most likely I’ll be a working mom in upstate NY). I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that something will open up at Free Arts. In the meantime, I’ve love to hear of any other arts / cultural organizations/nonprofits that are in need of volunteers. Let me know what you know!

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Speaking of fundraising (which yes, I do it when the occasion calls for it), I’m raising money with Team for Kids as part of the Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon. Team for Kids provides fitness programming for under served youth (I’m all about saving the children).  My goal is to not only run 13 miles, but to raise $1,000 by May and so far, thanks to the generosity of my family and friends, have almost reached the halfway mark. If you are able, please donate what you can and spread the word to your friends. Whether $10 or $100, it will make a difference!

UPDATE

In February and March, I found myself constantly sick. When I finally ran outside for the first time, I decided to go big and run 5 miles. The result was a mild case of tendinitis, which required me having to wear a boot for nearly a month and stop all forms of working out. As of last week, I just started trying to run again (via a treadmill) and the AirBnb Brooklyn Half is this Saturday, so I will not be running. However, I did manage to raise $435 for Team for Kids, which is a feat in and of itself. Thank you to everyone who donated! I plan on cheering on my friends who are running and trying to run a half marathon later this year. My advice for anyone training is definitely follow a workout plan to make sure your body is strong enough to help you go the distance. (oh lord, puns). However, don’t that discourage you from trying something new!

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