I was so involved with the community in high school. Maybe it was just because I’m from a small town in Upstate New York, or maybe it was just because high school was boring without doing some sort of activity. I remember I first signed up to volunteer at my local hospital, where I was a pharmacist assistant. I would spend four hours on Saturday mornings, in an itchy polo, delivering medicine to different departments of the hospital. I soon started volunteering for school events – car washes, bake sales, manning the concession stands at football games – and then found myself joining volunteering organizations. I joined my chapter’s National Honor Society and clubs like Student Government, where volunteering was a valued aspect.
During my junior year, a devastating flood wiped out my community. It was the largest flood I had ever seen and school was cancelled for a couple of weeks. People lost their homes and my particular community was surrounded by water on all sides. I was stranded for about a week, with no electricity, no technology, and definitely no internet. For the first day or so, I was definitely having a hard time without internet. I couldn’t talk to any of my other friends about what was happening and I couldn’t pass the time by watching movies or television. But then I stepped outside when it stopped raining, and accessed the damage that this flood had done. Those with their homes completely destroyed were crying and those that were more fortunate had formed an assembly line to help pump out water in people’s basements. The entire community had gotten together – sharing available food and water supplies, offering to babysit kids, moving furniture. For the first time since moving to that neighborhood, I felt like I had a responsibility to help. I remember walking through feet of mud to be able to get out and as my parents went to the store to see if there was anymore water, I went to Binghamton University, where an evacuation center had been established, to volunteer. I only had two hours before my parents would come to get me, and yet those two hours made such a difference in my life. Families took up every square inch of the center and resources (that were donated by Wegmans – whaddup!) were being used up so quickly. Within those two hours, I realized just how important it was to be a part of the community. If I hadn’t stepped out of my house that day, I wouldn’t have seen the help that was needed.
After that, I saw volunteering not as something to put on my college resume, but something I truly wanted to do. My senior year, I joined the American Cancer Society and became a committee chair to organize the Binghamton Relay for Life 2013 event. Every person on the committee had some personal reason why they were there and I felt that everything I did was affecting those who had a reason to fight.
And as many of you are aware, I went to South Africa this past summer to volunteer.
I talk about these experiences not to boast about my volunteer experiences, but to show that volunteering is available to anyone, even a high schooler. I’ve always thought of volunteering not as something to put on a resume, but necessary to get truly involved with the community and to understand people. Yes, of course volunteering is sometimes a burden, as are all commitments, but most of the time, it’s truly enjoyable.
When I got to college, I decided that volunteering would take up too much of my time and it would be too much of a hassle, as I didn’t have a car or a clue my first semester. More and more things started to pile up and I was so lost in my life. I was confused about adjusting to college and it seemed like I was constantly stressed out. I decided the reason I was so unhappy was because I was getting as involved as I did in high school. So, after seeing posters for “Into the Streets” board positions available, I decided to apply! After a short interview and application, they accepted me and I started planning Cornell’s largest day of service, which encourages college students to get engaged with the community and to remember the important of service. Last year, we had over 1200 Cornell students participate in this four-hour event. (I hope to see you all there ).
I realized that even without a car or even with my busy schedule, it’s so easy to get involved, especially at Cornell. We have a department dedicated to public service (www.psc.cornell.edu), where you can join any club within it. I also recently pledged Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity. They make volunteer opportunities so accessible – I would definitely recommend it! Volunteering as a college student and at Cornell is so rewarding, and I feel as though all my efforts are making some sort of difference in a life.
Register for the Into the Streets here: tinyurl.com/ITS2014-V