Twice in my life I can recall going through serious bouts of depression. One was between the ages of 13 – 17. My father calls it The Dark Ages, or in layman’s terms: Puberty. The other was when I was living in Tennessee and within the same year I lost my first great love to another person, and my best friend to heart failure.
There was nothing to help me through puberty but time and some very patient parental units. In Tennessee I had an awakening. After spending months under my bed with a never ending bottle of E & J (please don’t judge) I finally saw glints of light coming through the blinds. I realized the world was still spinning, with life and love continuing to grow, and that no one could help me as long as I continued to live as a hermit.
However, since I didn’t know how to ask for help, let alone how to accept help, I thought I could help someone else. I recalled in high school going to Trinity Methodist, across from City Hall in downtown Atlanta, where once a month I prepared and served dinner to homeless men, often whom were struggling with addictions. And I remembered always being happiest when I was serving others. These men were inspiring and made me want to be a better person.
There is no shortage of scientific data and evidence of the benefits of volunteerism. Volunteering forces the individual to get outside of their “comfort zone” and face challenges that help one grow. Studies have been done that show an increase in life skills, career advancement, and salary pay.
There are also direct relations between volunteering and a healthier life. A study done in 2013 by Carnegie Mellon University shows a direct correlation between people over the age of 50 who do over 200 hours of volunteer work and lower blood pressure. There are also notices of volunteer activities such as reading and tutoring that could lead to the increase of brain activity and memory recall.
Aside from helping yourself, many needs would go unmet if it were not for the tireless, and sometimes thankless, hours and years of work of volunteers. In Alexis de Tocqueville’s, “Democracy in America,” de Tocqueville made the astute observation of,
“I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another.”
Domino v Butterfly
It seems now more than ever we are in need of getting out there and helping one another in order to help ourselves. Society is in a mental depression. Politics aside, the 200% increase in murders in our great city to the horrific crimes this summer spanning from attacks on people with different skin colors, religions, and sexual orientations is appalling. Like the domino effect, the catastrophes keeps falling one right after another, to the point where you finally throw your hands in the air and say, “Fuck it.”
But then humanity, the real essence of it, kicks in overdrive. It is truly touching and inspiring to see the masses rally together in public outcry demanding recognition and reform from both politicians, religious sanctions, and societal norms. But not everyone feels comfortable or called in the same manner. Not all are willing to stand in the middle of the interstate, or risk being shot for conducting a peaceful protest. That is OK.
It’s OK because there is no limit to the ways you can help the community at large. In times of chaos I turn to chaos theory and the butterfly effect. The smallest of measures can result in the greatest of changes. Much like faith, it’s not always what you are doing to help, but that you are doing something. Anything. As long as it isn’t sitting in front of a TV allowing yourself to be beaten down and numbed to everything that is going on around you saying, “That’s life. What can I do?”
There are so many different way to get out there and make a difference in your community. The best way to start is by focussing on a simple issue that means something to you.
- Black Lives Matter – Atlanta branch
- Atlanta Beltline – take an active role in the developing Beltline that is shaping our city and communities
- ACSS – Atlanta Center for Self Sustainability; come volunteer at Cafe 458 to help provide resources to end homelessness
- Kate’s Club – help children who are dealing with the loss of a parent or sibling
- Everybody Wins! – program focused on improving child literacy through pairing adults and children for one on one reading sessions at school
- Habitat for Humanity
- Alzheimer’s Association
These are just a few of the many organizations to become involved in. And if you can’t find one that speaks to you, maybe this is the calling for you to start one yourself and spearhead the change you want to see.
Making a Dent
In Tennessee, I was no longer an angst ridden teenager, but a young woman who was lost between being free and having the chance at a family of her own denied. So I signed up for the Big Brother Big Sister program and was deemed worthy of mentoring one of our nation’s youth. A quiet but highly perceptive 11-year-old.
At first we did normal weekend outings – skate parks, shopping, ice cream, etc. When her school grades dropped we upped the ante and spent at least 3 days a week together doing homework until her report card showed progress. And when gang violence escalated in her neighborhood we had real adult conversations about what was happening around her and to her friends. In return she gave me self confidence, honesty, appreciation, and fashion (apparently I was no cooler than I was in HS in that department). Now she is getting ready to graduate from high school and I still check in on her to make sure she is staying on top of school, college applications, and of course, staying away from the infectious Senior-itis that plagues most at that age.
It amazes me how all these little activities we did together have shaped us into the contributing members of society we have become today. I feel confident I left my thumbprint through this child who has already made strides in shaping the world around her. To quote Smoochy, “Remember kids, you might not be able to change the world, but at least you can make a dent.”
Get out there and make others feel better about the world they live in, and in return make yourself feel better, too. Because in the end it is us that determines the state of our community. Why not try to make it the best?