I had a chance to be part of two events this weekend that opened my eyes to the power of volunteering.
The background of the people and the setting for each meeting could not have been more different.
Last night I attended a meeting of Reconstruction, Inc., an organization committed to fighting for prison reform as well as helping ease the path back into society for ex-offenders. The meeting took place in North Philadelphia, a neighborhood afflicted by high poverty, and all the problems associated with such a condition. The purpose of the meeting was to get everyone up-to-date on all the various initiatives of the organization, as well the chance to ask questions and air grievances. I was unaware of how upset people were with some of the issues that had been going on behind the scenes. But it seemed to be healthy to get such issues out in the open.
Today I attended an event at Villanova University, run by students, designed to help young adults with special needs to learn some life skills. The meeting took place on the Main Line, a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia, and most of the people at the event were from upper-middle class families. Today’s topic was math and money skills, and the Villanova students designed three stations to allow students to develop certain of these skills. One station had a series of taste tests between name-brand and store brand products to show the young adults the value of store brand products. Another station taught students how to budget for a night out, and a third station focused on the difference between wants and needs. The stations were quite clever, and the young adults seemed to enjoy them.
As I said, the backgrounds and participants of the two meetings were quite different, but there was also a good deal in common.
One item in particular that struck me was that everyone involved at each meeting was a volunteer. And while there are certain benefits one gets from this type of volunteering, what really struck me is that sometimes the benefits can be life changing.
One person at the Reconstruction meeting last night was talking about how as the time got closer and closer for his release from prison, all he and his fellow prisoners would talk about was how they couldn’t wait to do something productive once they got out. However, he learned that it was not easy for an ex-offender to find a job. So he just started volunteering, joining as many organizations as he could so that he could not only help others, buthimself as well. Volunteering was giving him the opportunity to start putting his life back together again as well. It never struck me until hearing his story that volunteering could be so powerful, and the importance of making such opportunities available.
I’ve written before about how great the Villanova students are with volunteering and providing service to the local community and beyond. And for many, such service is a chance for the students to share their time and talent with those less fortunate than themselves. But every once in a while you meet a student whose life path is changed dramatically because of the volunteering they have done. It could be choosing a different career that is directly related to their volunteer work, or becoming a lifelong advocate for the poor, or those with physical or mental disabilities, and others they have met through their volunteering. In addition to the Villanova students benefiting from the experience, the young adults did as well. They loved being on campus, interacting with people close to their age, and the opportunity to learn some new skills. A win-win for all those involved.
This revelation about the power of volunteering to change lives was eye-opening, and has made me want to more actively look for such opportunities, and at the same time, think of ways to make such opportunities available to more people.
So thank you to the members of Reconstruction and Villanova for the good work that you do; you really do have the power to change the world.