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Why should I volunteer?


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2001

First of two parts

Last summer I was encouraged to spend my time wisely and become a volunteer. I wanted to say, "Hey, it is my time off. Don't tell me how to spend it!" Why would anyone choose to work for FREE? I guess I just don't get it. I would prefer to spend my summer hanging out and sleeping in, but that's not going to happen.

I thought volunteering is something old people do because they can't find anything else to do with all that time they have on their hands. They made me laugh when I went places such as the hospital and I saw them hanging out in their funny colored coats. I heard them make small talk with people in the halls, and it looked to me like they were just there to run errands for the working people.

I knew we have volunteers in my school, but I am not sure they made a difference. I had never paid much attention to what they do. The ones who hang around all the time and do stuff for nothing seemed to be the strangest sort of volunteers. Could they not get real jobs? Are they so bored in life they need to get a life even if it is for free? If their children are in the school where they volunteer, I wondered if they are there to check up on their kids or make brownie points on their kids' behalf. Like I said, I guess I didn't get it! I had plenty to do! I didn't like the color of the volunteer coats! I didn't want to make small talk with strangers! I didn't want to be any person's free courier service. I am smart and could find lots of things to do for money! I didn't need to earn points for my future to impress anyone. So why did I need to volunteer?

Then I learned I had to do service hours for my school. Now what was that about? Was it not enough that I spend nine months doing what school officials tell me to do? How did the school think it could require me to volunteer in my community if I wanted to qualify for certain awards when I graduate? Doing my homework and making decent grades should have been enough! I needed a break in the summer from people telling me what to do. Not only was I learning that "no" was not an option but also that I was expected to do stuff for FREE.

So, I gave in, as if I had a choice. I went looking for a place to give away my summer hours of fun. I was surprised to discover how many people my age were already volunteering. I went several places and even saw people that I knew. I decided to talk to them about this free labor we were all required to give away. Their responses added to my already confused state about being a volunteer. Most of my peers seemed to think what they were doing was okay . . . not necessarily exciting but interesting and somewhat rewarding. They were involved in a variety of activities and not just at hospitals wearing funny looking smocks.

I knew I had to do this volunteer thing, but I was still somewhat resistant. Enough already! I agreed to find someplace to give away my summer time and try to enjoy it once I started, because apparently it was the right thing to do. I still thought I needed a real job where I could make real money. My goal was to find the quickest and easiest way to fulfill this requirement. I couldn't see any other benefit from this senseless thing people call volunteering. Believe this: I was not volunteering of my own free will, so I was not sure this word really captured the concept. I was the one who felt captured! How could having no choice about how my time was spent be labeled as volunteer hours?

P.S. Don't judge me yet until you find out what I discovered, thanks! (See next week's column.)

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IT! (Private thoughts of the Indomitable Teen) is written by Cecilia Tucker, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Counseling Center for New Direction in Seminole. Tucker, who has been in counseling practice since 1979, writes this column under the guidance of a panel of teenage advisers, who approve the topics and offer their insights (in exchange for pizza). You may write her c/o: IT!, X-Press, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com.

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