I Volunteered Every Day for a Week and Here’s What Happened
Some of you awesome people already following me on Instagram may know that earlier this year, I kicked off a weekly challenge series called #GiveItAWeek. Essentially, instead of picking one meaty new year’s resolution, I decided to come up with 52 smaller resolutions that I could try out for a week at a time. The results have been fascinating — to say the least — and have challenged me to grow in all kinds of ways I never thought possible.
For one of my most recent weeks, I decided to volunteer each day for a different cause. Here’s how it went.
DAY 1: make a plan
Turns out, it’s not so easy to just pick up and volunteer any day you feel like it. I was really surprised by how tough it was to find ad hoc volunteering opportunities since most ask you to: a) fill out an application, b) attend a multi-hour training session, and c) commit to multiple hours of volunteering for a set number of weeks or months. Not possible for my type of chaotic work, travel, and mom schedule! I understand why they do this (they want people they can count on), but I do think it likely cuts out a large population of people who would otherwise love to spend their time helping out during weeks that aren’t so, well, crazy.
DAY 2: feed the homeless
I served 500 people a meal within an hour — woah! I was most surprised by the gender disparity — I would say about 90 percent of the people who came in were men. A follower on Instagram who often volunteers in shelters told me that homeless women often do not take part in these types of opportunities for safety reasons. They do not feel comfortable being catcalled by so many homeless men (so sad). Regardless, this was a really fulfilling day and more than anything, it made me consider how privileged I truly am and how I should try to take part in serving those less fortunate more often.
DAY 3: preschool volunteering
I opted to be a Teacher’s Helper in my son, Ansel’s, preschool class. Miss Catherine kindly asked me if I would do things like read to the children, oversee some finger painting projects, and generally play with them. Ummm… OKAY. I mean, that’s my life at home with two toddlers anyway! This one wasn’t much of a challenge for me, but it was so much fun to be cuddled by swarms of tiny bodies as I read to them on the beloved “magic carpet.”
DAY 4: walking senior dogs
Oh. My. Gosh. My heart stopped as soon as I walked in the door and saw all of the adorable furry faces looking back at me. Muttville is an organization that takes senior dogs (aka 7+ years old) from local SF shelters and tries to foster them until adoption. They typically find a foster family within 10 days of being at Muttville and an adoption family within a month after — such cool stats! I stopped by to volunteer to walk and play with the dogs for a little over an hour and fell in love with so many. It was hard not to want to take one home! Jamm was definitely my favorite, but little Nemo with his tongue sticking out (he had no teeth), and furry Jack the Bear were runners-up.
DAY 5: food runners
Food Runners is a #genius organization in San Francisco that essentially pairs up with startups and restaurants across the city to take their excess food and then deliver it to low-income communities. I was tasked to pick up a BIG collection of leftover food from a startup called LeanPlum and then deliver it. Seemed easy, right? Well, the biggest issue was that there was a LOT of food, and most of it was super spill-able and not tightly wrapped in containers. I was not prepared for giant aluminum bins of beans and sauces to potentially spill all over me OR my car, so the handling took a lot longer than expected to Tetris it all together. In the end, all the food was delivered and I felt proud to be of service, even if it was only transporting things from point A to B.
DAY 6: girl scouts camp
Having been a Girl Scout in my own childhood, I was very excited to be asked to help teach a watercolor class at a nearby Girl Scouts camp. The girls there were ages 11-14, and my task was to assist in helping them make watercolor coaster crafts. The catch? It was a watercolor hack! The girls actually used Sharpie markers to draw all over a blank white tile. Then, we dabbed rubbing alcohol on top to smear the marker into a watercolor vibe. They had so much fun with this, and so did I! I was most intrigued by how kind and supportive these girls were of one another and their creative skills. I wish all people could take a lesson from these smart and crafty little ladies.
DAY 7: beach clean-up
I knew I had to get my kids in on the volunteering action, so I brought them both (and my husband, Dave) to help clean-up trash on a nearby beach. I promised them one M&M for one piece of trash (I’m not above parenting bribes), and it worked! Within 20 minutes, we had a pretty full bag of trash. Beyond that, nearly every day following the clean-up, my kids asked me when they could go back and do it again. I’m sure they are just driven by their good-hearted nature and not the M&Ms, right? :)
As a mom of two toddlers and venture-backed CEO, you can imagine how little time I have in my life. So I knew this week was going to be a personal challenge on that front. However, it wasn’t as tough as I thought. Some days I left work a half-hour earlier than normal and got home a half-hour later than usual so that I could spend an hour giving back in between. It really didn’t cause much concern for my kids or my coworkers, so it felt like something I could actually make work within my schedule on a regular basis if need be!
That being said, I have to say that I was surprised how difficult it was to find one-time only and hour-long only volunteering gigs. Most organizations force you to commit to multiple months or even up to a year and generally try to get you to spend 2-3 hours or more at a time. Many won’t even let you become a volunteer until you undergo background checks and training sessions, which causes a lot of friction to get started.
While I understand the point of all this (they want to make their own calendars more efficient and find the best people), I do think that it precludes a big portion of society who likely has busy schedules and/or travels a lot. I’d love to find more opportunities for irregular hour-long volunteering and I’m sure others would as well. Who wants to take this on as a new business opportunity!?
Overall, this week was a huge success. I did good and I felt good. What more could I ask for? I’m really excited to continue to find ways to help out in the future… and I may just go back and steal one of those cute old dogs before then!
Need ideas for how you can do more to help make the world a better place (or maybe just your corner of it)? Make sure to check out Be the Change, our guide featuring multiple hands-on initiatives and expert advice on how to turn your passion for change into action.
Are you involved in any volunteer opportunities? Share it with me on Twitter, @brit.