Giving and Getting

image of a curved wall filled with library books

Photo by Patrik Goethe, via Unsplash.

As many of you know, I’m in the second of a two-year term serving as Director at Large for the Society for Technical Communication, a volunteer role. And since my election, I’ve often been asked the same question: “Why are you on the board? What do you get out of it?”

What do I get out of it? I’ve always thought that this was a strange question. Because I’ve never thought of being a volunteer as something I get. For me, volunteering has always been something that I give. And I give because I feel like I have something worth giving.

But even though getting isn’t my primary motivation, I’ve gotten something from all of my volunteer experiences.

I Got Confidence

Of course, you don’t just jump into elected service at the national level of a professional organization. My history with volunteering goes back to middle school. I stepped into role with a community group when their finance committee was shorthanded due to the illnesses of multiple senior members. I stayed on when I realized that they needed my help long-term.

What did I get out of it? In hindsight, it gave me a great deal of confidence to know that this group of adults trusted me with what little money they had.

I Got Clarity

In college, I volunteered as a tutor at the local middle school. I helped an immigrant child make sense of American history, using my own political science background to help him make connections between the political systems of our respective countries.

What did I get out of it? This is one of the earliest examples I can recall where I realized my aptitude for clarifying complex ideas.

The following year, I was assigned as a math tutor for an at-risk teen girl. After my fourth session with her, the guidance counselor met with me for a consultation. I remember telling her that math was just a symptom, not the problem. “Bingo,” she said. “You get it. You’re here to listen.”

What did I get out of it? I learned to look beyond the client’s stated needs to find solutions to the deeper problems.

I Gained Insights

When we moved to California, I volunteered at the school for the deaf across the street from our apartment. I spent seven years supporting the burgeoning Reading Recovery program, helping to build and categorize the library of leveled books, and assist with mentoring and storytelling programs.

What did I get out of it? I learned a new language and gained a deep insight into literacy and learning that have helped me as a parent and as a writer.

Do You Volunteer?

I’d love to her from you. How do you volunteer? What do you get from giving?

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