At the top of the summer, President Obama challenged Americans to give back. Not just by writing a check, but by volunteering their unique skills and time to those causes that need it most. He dubbed the campaign ‘Summer of Service.’
Needless to say, I took up his challenge with zeal. This summer, I have volunteered a total of 247 hours, give or take a few.
I always highly admired the skills of the Americorps volunteers that I worked with for the last three years. I didn’t get how they had the energy to get up to do calisthenics at the crack of dawn, mentor and tutor school children and then plan elaborate productions for their peers late into the night only to wake up and do it all over again the following day. I wanted to know what fueled them. And so I jumped right in to see for myself what it truly means to give back.
Oh, the lessons I learned!
I learned that each volunteer experience is different and although I’m well-versed in the areas of PR, event planning, communications and television production, those who I volunteered with didn’t know the extent of my skill set. I learned that life isn’t always fair but it is always beautiful. Each and every time, I was humbled:
I stood in the blazing sun at the MLK Day Concert Series, ensuring that we stayed on schedule, volunteers were placed and the celebs hit the stage on time.
When politicians (most of whom I would see later in the day at the concert series) asked me if they would be able to freestyle their testimonials for the NYC Video Voter Guide, I had to exercise a firm hand but use empathy as well. We were at the mercy of NBC studios and time is money.
After a long day of haggling, I felt good to mindlessly stuff envelopes for an up and coming politco who is making his mark.
I created a brand book for a Model/TV star Tyra Banks and, to my total surprise, a page from my presentation was selected to be featured on her website and then inspired the ‘feel’ of her relaunch.
I learned from a great friend that social media is a powerful tool and that if used properly, it can change the way non profits raise money. And so I headed to volunteer my time at Mashable’s Social Good conference to work while learning from the crème de la crème.
Finally, I discovered that if a group of talented individuals come together (online or otherwise) and pool resources they can make a difference that will change the worlds of those that need it most.
I have always been civic minded. The passing of the Serve America Act this spring was a day of celebration for me and the passing of Edward Kennedy, a pioneer of the service movement, was one of great sadness. Those 247 hours taught me that without the work of volunteers, so many phenomenal ideas would probably never see the light of day due to a lack of resources.
As the summer comes to a close (can you believe it?) and the anniversary of 9/11 approaches (soon to be marked as ‘A National Day of Service’) I am even more convinced that we all have a responsibility to lend a hand. I’ve changed people’s lives and ultimately changed my own. Ironically, the aforementioned is the slogan for the Americorps program I referenced earlier. My work is just beginning.
I challenge you to join me. Below are my top three picks for finding service opportunities.