An early riser, I’m not. Most Saturday mornings find me comfortably ensconced
in a makeshift pillow fort, snoring away.
But every now and then, I cancel the standing date with my pillow to spend a day
in service, rather than sleep. Whether outdoors or inside, passing out food or picking
up trash, community service is a nice change of pace – and certainly a more productive
Interested in giving up Zs to give back to your community? Here are some lessons
I learned on one yawn-inducing early Saturday morning.
Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
The day begins in song. We break into two groups: Volunteers on one side of the
field; the worksite’s staff on the other. Our eager, boisterous energy has
dissipated, replaced by unease at the awkwardness of the situation. We are separated
by mere yards, but it feels like more.
The staff begins chanting, tentatively at first, then stronger as the familiar words
flow. They request entrance to the site on our behalf, grant us passage, and formally
open the work day. Even though I don’t understand the words, there is a tangible
sense of ceremony.
Passage granted, we cross the symbolic divide to join together. The energy builds
again, but it is different now – it’s tempered by ritual. Camaraderie with
As a break from the weekday routine, volunteering offers the perfect opportunity
to dip a toe in unknown waters. If your 9-to-5 renders you office-bound, try serving
outdoors. You can work on that tan while your service makes an even deeper mark.
If, like me, you’ve got the brownest of all green thumbs, consider helping
on a farm or garden. Working alongside experienced growers will teach you a thing
or two while dispelling fears that you’ve got the horticultural kiss of death.
Think of volunteer opportunities as training wheels while learning to ride a bicycle:
They are a chance to get your hands dirty in a supportive environment where you
can lean on others without falling down.
Backburner Your Ego
Color me underwhelmed: I am on weeding detail. Surely the farm must have more meaningful
work. Laying the foundation for a new building or gathering the harvest – something
like that. Something spectacular.
I suppose I expected some sort of Extreme Makeover: Farm Edition. Show up, sweat
it out, and admire the end product (complete with Kodak moments for all). That might
work for building houses; it doesn’t work for growing produce. The cycle of
harvest is inherently slow. We labor at the pleasure of the earth’s decree,
not my ego’s demands.
I had expected something spectacular, but service is about more than spectacle.
For the moment, at least, it is about weeding. I return to the task at hand, which
goes something like, “Pull out the stuff that doesn’t look like the
other stuff, and try not to disturb that mass of ants over there.”
I suppose the name should have given it away; “volunteering” originally
meant offering oneself for military service. Though we weekend warriors aren’t
in combat, we still labor for a greater good – and that means relinquishing the
need for personal glory.
I grew up accustomed to acclaim, recognized for everything from intangible achievements
(like gaining levels in video games) to simply showing up (like attendance awards
at school, and “trophies-for-everybody!” youth soccer teams).
Volunteering keeps my ego in check. It is the reminder that an honest day’s
work is its own reward and that sometimes internal satisfaction beats external recognition.
Stand Together, Serve Together
Ready to give up some rest in the name of giving back? Ask around – chances
are, your neighbors could use a hand. Or take a look at
www.volunteerhawaii.org, managed by Aloha United Way. You can search opportunities
by location, project type, and service time.
Set the alarm a little earlier one Saturday and give it a shot. Your bed will be
there when you return.
Who knows? You might even sleep a little better after a hard day’s service.