Volunteering: It Starts at Home

Volunteering: It Starts at Home

We've all heard the phrase "charity starts at home" but it took me just yesterday to find that, hey, it really does. For the last day of the "12 Days of 4-Star" blogging series I planned on doing some generic predictable form of volunteering like working at a soup kitchen or working at the Red Cross. But after calling for weeks to a certain food pantry that will remain nameless (but may be located around 80th and May on the southside...) and having the pleasure of dealing with their testy main desk attendant (because apparently a pleasant demeanor is no longer necessary to work in hospitality) I decided to seek other means of giving my time. And I thought, how many other people are out there, ready to give of themselves but not in a network of agencies that provide renowned volunteering services. There may be ways to volunteer of yourself everyday.

1. Be a "Yes" Man. We've all been in a meeting or divvying up tasks for a particular job and had that panic inducing moment when somebody asks who wants to help out with extra work. And even in a cockfight you could hear the proverbial pin drop. Don't make the questioner feel like they want to jump off the Sears Willis Tower in such a wholesome holiday season. Say yes for a change instead of thinking of all the reasons you can't. 2. Ask Not What Your City Can Do For You. We're Americans. We like getting as much for our bargain as we can get. But sometimes you have to ask yourself what you can do to make someone's life better. Shovel your neighbor's driveway and leave a thoughtful card. And I know you need your coins but see if there's anything extra at work that needs to be done and don't automatically expect a check for it. You'll find that both things may come back to aid you in the future. 3. The Thought that Counts. We know the best deeds are ones that are a surprise. Do you have a friend or coworker with a little one? Clean and wrap up some old baby clothes or go out and buy them a gift just because. And I know you love your mom. How about finally cleaning out that crawl space or offering to bare the brunt of the cooking duty for the week. Just a few of the small things you can do to make a difference in someone's life and it's even more special because you get to directly reap the joy of your actions.

I decided to choose option two when creating my volunteer venture. I don't mention it often but I happen to work for the Chicago Public School system as a part-time Literacy Intervention teacher, not because I'm ashamed or anything. I love working for my school but in an effort to not embarrass the staff with my writing I don't include it. (I'm not sure my employers would appreciate my occurring use of a multitude of improper expletives.) I have one of the most stressful and rewarding jobs in the market. I may not be a doctor but I literally hold little lives in my hand. And you would think that after all that adolescent contact I would feel fulfilled but everyday about 4:30 (because most teachers don't clock out directly at three like certain officials would have you believe) I wonder what more I could have done to reach my students.

Luckily, our Winter Family Arts Night and Recital lent me an opportunity to flex my charity giving muscles. There was so much to do. Turning our simple cafeteria into an area that would sit the parents of up to 330 students was more than a little daunting. And of course I kid, but must note the efficiency of using child labor. I watched as students who came up with every excuse in the book for uncompleted homework or curse me out go beyond what was asked to make an enjoyable experience for their parents and community. Not quite the domestic or visual display expert, I found that one of my talents was in running errands and getting materials the other instructors needed for the event. It was crazy to see one of the most respected instructors, Joel Martinez, give me gratitude for getting a mere truckload pizzas for the ROTC cadets. Especially since he deals with over 200 students a day, some of which are the toughest of the school, for up to 10 or 12 hours a day. My second talent, I'm guessing, was getting to the heart and funny bone of my students because I had my students laughing either with me but most likely at me as I made corny jokes, pinched my share of cheeks, and attempted to do the Party Rock Shuffle.

I couldn't help but notice as I watched prepubescents become closer to adulthood before my eyes, that this is the most important work I can do. And I wasn't worrying about punching any clocks or filling out time sheets. I was just enjoying the growth of the children around me. So, I revisit the idea of volunteering and I challenge you to make a difference. Not saving the whales in some remote part of the world but building lasting memories directly in the neighborhood around you. And I don't want to take away from those important agencies and services, all I'm saying is volunteering can in fact start at home.

And  finally we're on our last day of the series, check your chance to win fabulous prizes from 4-Star Explorer. All you have to do is collect all 12 "Jingle Words" and email them to us! Read 12 Days of 4-Star Giveaway for more details.

Jingle Word- Give Back

Check out this awesome footage of Madero Middle School's ROTC cadets perform the popular hit, Party Rock Anthem.

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