Continuing my four article series on why folks should do community work, I’ll be writing about how you can grow as a professional and a person by getting involved. Sure it’s work you do for free, and of course compared to paid work, community work can easily seem like it’s just not worth doing. Going in with the right mentality and attitude is critical to get the most out of any experience, and there are benefits to community work that most folks just don’t even realize. After all, in volunteering, you will have:
1. New Relationships and Experiences
The most essential aspect of growing is new relationships and experiences. Sure we all have our regular job, family, religious, school, and recreation activities. But all too often, we become comfortable in these spaces, people, and activities. We grow to know exactly what to expect from what we participate in, and those activities tend to reinforce what we already believe and know. Community work is challenging, particularly because it requires you to engage the people in ways you never have before.
In my experiences working with elders, the first thing they always ask me is, “Who is your father?” And then they usually follow it with, “Do you have a wife yet?” which is always funny. I tell them my father and grandpa’s name, but usually they don’t know them. In our culture, we rely on traditional relationships and experiences to guide how we interact with each other. It makes us comfortable to know that the person we’re dealing with is a relative or a family friend, even if that was three decades ago. In the real world however, the history of our relationships don’t matter. What relationship we can form today is of the greatest importance; if they want to vote and I have voter information and forms, we have more than enough reason to start talking and getting to know one another. It is a genuine relationship that we can start that allows us to do new things and be innovative in what we’re able to do. However it is learning how to be open to the new friendships, connections, and experiences that is really important. But once you are, you will find that you can:
2. Engage the World in a Different Way
Nobody has a job that allows them to engage in all of their passions and interests. Community volunteering is an outlet for those who want more out of life. Whether you’re interested in photography, politics, sports, etc. you can always find a way to develop your other talents and skills in the community space. If you’ve ever wanted to coach a football team, teach art, or whatever you can easily find a program that will let you do it. My friend Eva volunteers to do photography at different events, and she gets to take pictures in a way that she doesn’t usually get to. She’s the one who took all the pictures of the HIP voter forum I posted last article. If you’re interested in her work, you can go to: http://www.capturebyeva.com/home
Finding a place to develop yourself can and does add value to both your professional life and personal life. In the advocacy and community work we do at HIP, we’re connecting with business owners, churches, community groups, political groups, school districts, and many other institutions, opening up opportunities for us to get involved in spaces that we would have never gotten to be a part of if we’d just worked our day jobs. Currently I’m about to get involved in a Parent University project in a local school district because I did some advocacy there with HIP a few months back against layoffs to Hmong para educators. Who knows? It might turn into another consulting opportunity. But definitely I’ll be enjoying new friendships and a deeper understanding of how to help Hmong students stay in school. In becoming open to changing your relationship with the world you will also:
3. Find Yourself through the Work
There’s only so many opportunities we can find to grow and change in the ways that allow us to reach our potential. To really be able to make the difference we want to or to find fulfillment, we often have to take the step of getting involved where it makes sense for us to grow. Of course your needs, your family, culture, and religion should be of utmost importance, but all of that alone really doesn’t speak to anyone as a whole person. As community work is so varied, it makes a lot of sense to explore what works best for you, and where you might find the kind of experiences and relationships that will help you find yourself. Who knows, you might be a leader, an actress, or a mentor but you simply haven’t had the opportunities to explore it yet.
As I’m finishing this article, I’m reminded of my college years when my friends and I were completely open to the different programs and experiences our college had to offer us. In becoming dancers, artists, officers, athletes, and whatnot, we were able to grow in ways that we had never imagined before getting there. I think everyone should stick to that kind of mentality as we move into adulthood because there are such rich experiences that are still await everyone who’s interested, willing, and open. And in staying involved, we won’t ever stop growing.