I am a big fan of volunteering. It's something I did here and there when time allowed after college, but never made a full commitment to until about 3 and a half years ago. I was going through some big changes in my life -- changes that would ultimately end up to be a positive thing but that didn't feel so positive at the time. I needed a distraction, and I needed a reason to get out of the house other than work. I decided to do something I'd been talking about doing for over a year. . . I signed up to be a tutor and workshop assistant at 826 Chicago.
826 Chicago is a wonderful organization that helps students from elementary school through high school with developing writing skills through workshops and field trips. They have an after school drop in tutoring center where kids can get help with all their homework and do a little writing as well. All around, it is a pretty amazing organization. It's just one in a network of nine such organizations around the country. There might even be one near you!
I almost feel guilty when people tell me that I'm a good person for giving a few hours of my time each week. Honestly, I feel a bit selfish. The time I spend volunteering each week is honestly one of the highlights of my week. I am getting to work with a pretty fantastic group of kids, introducing them to one of my favorite things to do: writing. I have met more than one kids at 826 who has declared they want to be a writer when they grow up, and that gives me a thrill like no other. But even the kids who complain about having to write are great to work with. They are so funny and smart and have such a great view of the world. I hope that I have helped at least one kid learn something new in my time there because I know I have learned so much about life and kids and teaching and even writing because of this experience. And I have even gotten a few story ideas. In addition to all the great kids, the other volunteers and the staff are just as fantastic. I have made more than one good friend and have increased my network by leaps and bounds.
I no longer need an excuse to leave the house. My life has changed dramatically in the last few years, and I am probably a gazillion times happier than I was when I first signed up to volunteer with 826, but now, it is an important part of my life. When I face major life decisions like moving or changing jobs or going back to school, I now factor in how this decision will affect my ability to keep volunteering.
Writing is a solitary process, and I think sometimes as writers, we forget to poke our noses out into the real world because we prefer the ones we are creating. I firmly believe that if everyone on the planet just picked one cause or organization to care about and dedicated just a couple hours a week to that cause, the world would be an infinitely better place. I wish I could dedicate more hours of my life not just to 826 but to other wonderful organizations, but until I become independently wealthy, I am going to have to continue to balance my time carefully. However, I am going to encourage others, especially writers, to make a little time to make a difference and possibly change your life. You might even get a story idea out of the experience. :)
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