At 826, Tomorrow's Volunteers are Today's Students
"I come here because I can relate to the students. I grew up this way. I struggled with English writing and English speaking. I know the importance of receiving positive reinforcement, and that's what students get when they come to 826LA. I volunteer because my heart is in helping students." —Vicente Ruvalcaba, 826LA volunteer
Imagine your city in the year 2050, when volunteering is as common as putting gas in your car or eating lunch. A time when individuals find the gratification they're searching for by helping and connecting with others. It can and must happen. The result will be more united, culturally richer, and stronger communities.
This vision of a connected future isn't too far off. In fact, volunteering today is more popular than it has ever been. Folks are getting out to paint their local schools, teach meditation to prisoners, work in soup kitchens—all for just a few hours a week and sometimes a lot more. Seems like more than anytime in our past, people are getting connected to their communities by lending their time for someone else’s well being. But really, in the end, volunteering is helping more than just the people they come in contact with—it's helping all of us.
How do we sustain this energy? For one, we have to teach the next generation about the values of volunteering. At 826LA—and at 826 centers across the nation—we focus on providing underserved youth with the one-on-one support they need to be stronger writers and thinkers. We rely on caring adults from all over to give their time, talents, enthusiasm, and compassion to the children we serve. It's a beautiful thing to see folks come together and learn from each other in one of our centers.
What's been especially great to witness is when the students who've benefited from the free help we provide come back and do the same for other students. Just this past year 826LA graduated our first cohort of college-bound students. Seven of these amazing young people took part in our Student Advisory Board where part of their job was to volunteer and even design and teach workshops for younger students. These inspired youth came to our center in Echo Park from as far out as East L.A. and South L.A. to be part of our movement. Not only were they receiving valuable support from our older volunteers and staff for getting into the colleges of their dreams, they were also learning to make volunteering a regular part of their lives.
I grew up in an immigrant household like many of those we serve, and never entertained the notion of volunteering. It certainly wasn’t something that was as present as it seems to be today, but even if it was, it certainly wasn’t part of my family’s cultural reference point. Just like the families we serve today, volunteering feels like a luxury to individuals who need to be focused on earning enough money to sustain their own lives. But that doesn’t have to be their children’s reality.
It’s the task of organizations like 826LA to not only give much needed assistance to those who need it most, but also to inspire and grow tomorrow's volunteers. It is my hope that this work will inspire those who do not feel connected to something bigger than them to seek out volunteer opportunities when they’re older. It’s important that young people find the inspiration, guidance, and see first hand what the work of volunteers can do for others, and ultimately, for themselves.
Click here to add volunteering at your local 826 center to your GOOD "to-do" list.
Children with hands up image via Shutterstock