Volunteering Felt Uncomfortable Until I Realized I Was Making This Mistake

Volunteering has long felt like something I should be doing, but I’ve sometimes struggled with exactly how to give back. As a teen, I volunteered at a therapeutic school for children with developmental delays. I spent a few Mondays there and realized it was a poor fit, and I was so relieved when the chance came for me to move on. I’m aware that I’ve been given both material and non-material resources that enable me to help meet the needs of others in my community, but it’s not always clear to me where I should use them. 

Over time, I’ve stepped in to volunteer here and there, but it’s typically been because someone approached me to help fill in a gap. I’ve helped with childcare in my church community, assisted in classrooms at a local school, and joined clean-up efforts in our city. These experiences were all pretty short-lived. I found that I felt strangely uncomfortable in each role, like I was only volunteering because I needed to, because it was the right thing to do.

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Sometimes it was a matter of feeling ill-equipped, like when I’ve been asked to lead or speak to large groups at children’s camps or events. I’m incredibly introverted, and more than once I felt like many of the opportunities for me to get involved meant stepping a little too far out of my comfort zone. 

More often than not, when I felt I could step away from volunteering without being missed, I quickly took my leave.

Then I felt guilty. Why was there such incongruence between what I wanted to do — volunteer in my community — and how I felt when the time came to step up? Was the issue that I was lazy or didn’t really care? I didn’t think that was the case, but I also wasn’t so sure what was up.

This changed recently when I was presented with the opportunity to help out at a community organization called ScrapsKC that our family has grown to love. They take creative supplies that would normally get thrown away, like half-used acrylic paints and fabric scraps, and recycle them. They sell them at a discounted price and offer art classes in the community by upcycling these supplies. Promoting more sustainable living is important to me and being able to make sure art supplies get used, instead of thrown away, is incredibly rewarding.

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What’s your favorite way to volunteer in the community?

The opportunity to help with sorting and organizing at their facility made me realize that I wasn’t thinking outside the box when it came to service opportunities. I was waiting for needs to present themselves to me and then I felt obligated to say “yes.” This meant I was often volunteering with organizations that didn’t speak to my specific interests or my skills.

It makes sense, in hindsight, that if I’m going to commit a large portion of my time to a cause, it’s a good idea that I feel connected to it and that my skills match up with what’s being asked of me. Being able to put my head down and get some work done by organizing art supplies works well with my introverted tendencies. For this reason, I’m looking for more ways this summer to use my creativity to help out around my city.

I’m hoping to write and edit on a volunteer basis in order to use those personal gifts. I’m offering to sort and organize at ScrapsKC whenever I can make the time. I’m also considering volunteering a couple of hours to do social media outreach each week for an organization that helps connect refugee families with resources around the world. 

In giving myself permission to seek out chances to serve that align with who I am, I’m finding that volunteering can actually be incredibly fun and fulfilling.

Originally published July 3, 2019

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