PART IV …AND DECIDES TO VOLUNTEER
I soon realise that picking up other people’s rubbish and being a pushover on the road isn’t for me. Never-ending, low-level guilt might make me do good, but I certainly don’t feel good. So, I decide to try something a little more substantial and to the point: proper volunteering work.
First, I offer my services at a local department store, where I’m given the task of wrapping gifts. The cashier hands me the purchase, I wrap it for “free”, then the customer donates to charity. Simple. Except my results are sub-par, and neither customer nor cashier are best pleased.
Volunteering is surprisingly hard. There’s no shortage of organisations crying out for help – go online and you’re guaranteed to find countless worthy causes only a few keystrokes away. It’s that they want commitment, not just poverty tourism. A CEO wheeling his or her family to a soup kitchen to show their bratty, entitled kids how good they have it does not even begin to pass muster.
Hoping that introducing religion into my mission might give me some moral resolve, I reach out to the Jesuits, the evangelical shock troops of the Catholic Church. If any religious organisation knows service, it’s them.
Mike Reddy is the interim president of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. He was a Jesuit Volunteer in Los Angeles, living (modestly) in a house with four other do-gooders and serving as a case manager for Homeboy Industries, an employment and rehabilitation centre for previously incarcerated or gang-affiliated men and women. “People believe that service and volunteerism should be zero-sum, that you should give everything and get nothing,” Reddy says. “But service should be a joyful, mutual experience.”
He tells me it shouldn’t feel like a burden. “If it does, you’re not doing it right,” he explains. Reddy reminds me that the ability to volunteer is a privilege: not everyone is able to take time off work or school to do it, or is given a journalistic brief like mine. The crucial thing is what we do with that privilege.
To Reddy, “The most important question is, ‘What have I done for people who aren’t me?’” There are many ways to make the world a better place, he says. Some involve service or charitable giving, but some don’t. If you spend time with your family and truly invest in your home life, that’s a noble cause. You don’t have to give all day, every day. Reddy’s wise words inspire me to embark on a different kind of volunteering – something that I can commit to but doesn’t feel so much like a burden. I go back to school.