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Validating the value of volunteering

Why do we volunteer? As a student at Ohio Northern, I've asked this many times. ONU is very good at connecting with the surrounding community and volunteering as much as possible in that community, but this makes me question its value for the communities being served and for myself. What good does volunteering actually do?

Here is my background in volunteering: A lot of it hasn't been official, but I still volunteered, nonetheless. My parents have always loved helping people. I remember doing countless projects with my dad for others. 

He is just a generous guy, so helping others with the little things was a pretty frequent Saturday occurrence. Some may not consider this volunteering, but I was using my time to help others, so I do.  I would also do many volunteer things through my church. This was a mix of working for the church and working with the church to help others. 

One of the main things that we would do is go to Juarez, Mexico.  In sixth, seventh and eighth grade, my family and several others would travel down there and build houses for a week. Finally, at ONU I have volunteered a decent amount of time. There are the canned food drives, the rake and runs and most of all Habitat trips. 

All of these things have been incredible adventures.

My problem with volunteering comes with the sheer quantity that I feel I must do. I have been to Juarez, Mexico three times. We did not stay in the "nice" part of the city. 

We stayed in a sketchy area. Our compound was a 30 by 40 yard rectangle of barbed wire in middle of the slums of Juarez. It was known that next door, a drug dealer's middle man lived. We couldn't go outside of the fence after dark, and it was advised to stay inside as much as possible even within the compound. 

When we would go build houses, we would go to neighborhoods that were made entirely of cardboard and pallets. My struggle would be that while we built one person a new home, their neighbors would watch. I would look at the house we were building, and look at the cardboard, tin, and wood shack the others were living in, and I didn't know what to do. 

Shouldn't I help everyone I can? If I build one person a house, shouldn't I build the others some as well? I had similar feelings on a mission trip to Chicago. I was only in 6th grade at the time, but we went to Chicago and spent our mornings making lunches in paper bags, then would go into the city, seek out the homeless, and feed them. The problem was that we never had enough. That was hard to do.  

I've had to learn that it's ok to not be able to do it all. I can't do it all. However, I can do enough for one or two people. I can't build a new home for the hundreds of thousands of people living in Juarez, but I can build one. 

Here is why I write this: I think that if we all do our part, we can actually accomplish something big. It doesn't feel like it at the time, but it does over time. Habitat for Humanity is a great example of this. In Dade City, we drove through several areas where there were three, four, five or more Habitat houses. It didn't happen overnight, but it has started to. Habitat wants to remove poverty housing from the world. I think that, given enough time, they will do it. 

Why do I volunteer? I genuinely believe that it makes a difference in the world. In Mexico, our first family that we built for had three sons. 

I remember them helping us on the worksite, and I will always remember the look on that family's face when we handed them the keys. I didn't make a difference for the entire city of Juarez, but I helped change that family's life.