Friday, May 14, 2010

"Volunteer service does not simply mean to work for free, but to practice and promote humanity."

My service as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Community Outreach Department of the New York Red Cross has been unlike anything I have ever done before. I believe in living charitably and respectfully. So all through high school and college, I helped out wherever I could—playing my guitar at nursing homes or a Special Olympics event, writing articles about outstanding community members’ achievements for the Saratogian newspaper, or helping an elderly neighbor by carrying her dumpster up and down her driveway each week.

But through my AmeriCorps service, I have been motivated to develop my sense of altruism into a lifestyle, a career. I have since discovered that volunteer service does not simply mean to “work for free,” but to “practice and promote humanity.”

In my main function in the Community Outreach Department, I meet people every day and teach them how to be prepared for disasters—topics they often never stop to consider. The look on their faces when they hear me talk about how fast fires actually spread, or when they realize they don't know the evacuation plan of their child's school, reassures me that I am making an impact.

But it is more often in the one-on-one conversations that I am touched most deeply by how humans deal with disasters. A mother once told me how she threw her children out the window of her fifth-story apartment into a net below to save them from a fire; and when I was deployed to Massachusetts earlier this year to help with devastating floods, I met with firefighters and community emergency response teams who had been working overtime to clear the roads and pump out homes. It is stories like these that push me to continue giving service.

Alexander R. Selby from Brooklyn, NY

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