There’s one question I ask myself every single time I think about assisting a nonprofit group: Why do we volunteer?
For some students my age, it may be because their parents demand that they do something more productive with their time than playing the latest version of Apex Legends or DM-ing friends all Saturday morning on Snapchat. Most parents know that volunteering not only looks good on college applications, but also demonstrates a commitment to helping others. That way of thinking also rubs off on students, who oftentimes think their humanitarian side will appeal to colleges, so they join a service club at school or volunteer at a homeless shelter.
Students and adults alike may discover that doing community service is uplifting and makes them feel good about themselves. That’s a natural reaction; once we find something to fuel that dopamine rush, we continue to do it. If helping others makes you feel better, by all means, go and volunteer.
These are just some of the reasons we volunteer. However, there’s a glaring hole in all of these justifications: The people we choose to help are sometimes not a part of the conversation.
This is my fifth year being a part of Buddies4Math, a community of student volunteers dedicated to helping underprivileged elementary students in Mountain View improve their math skills. We do so by playing math-related games with them and teaching them new ways to think about the subject. As middle and high school students from throughout the Peninsula, we come together every Friday afternoon to do something meaningful.
Although I have the privilege of leading the program today, I wasn’t so excited about the group at first, because my parents nudged me into joining. But the moment I connected with my first student, I realized this volunteer opportunity wasn’t about me – it was about the students. From then on, my only priority was helping them. In doing so, I’ve focused on how I can best assist each student I work with. I allow the student to be the leader and the one in charge of his or her own learning, something that often gets lost in the classroom.
I volunteer because I hope to give the students I work with a new perspective on learning. I volunteer because I know how powerful it is to learn for fun. I volunteer because I hope a student can become a stronger thinker with my support. I do it all for them.
However, that doesn’t mean you should stop volunteering if you don’t share the same passion or philosophy. Instead, everyone who volunteers should reflect on why they devote their time to doing so. It might just change your life for the better, as it did mine.