You don’t aways know which choices you make and actions you take will “pay off.”
In my experience, there are a few that are absolutely sure bets, no regrets choices.
And they are volunteering with friends, neighbors, and other community members to create spaces to welcome everyone in the community to come together to play, to learn, to celebrate, and to work on accomplishing goals that serve needs greater than your own.
To do hard things together for the greater good, things that lasts beyond your use date.
In my LifeSPARKS A-Z strategies for nurturing lifelong learners- V is for Volunteer and S is for Share.
These are great strategies whether you are nurturing a child, or yourself, to take control of your learning and thrive.
Some of my family’s most significant learning experiences have come from trying to make a contribution to something we care about.
And that has often involved learning from, and with, others who care. Sometimes that has meant a DIY approach, and sometimes it has involved taking advantage of the generosity of others sharing their expertise.
My love affair with libraries started when I was very young.
I grew up in a town with a library housed in a section of a big fancy estate that had been donated to the town.
It had giant leaded glass windows, window seats, balconies, nooks and crannies and a beautiful children’s room which opened to a back garden maze.
Every space was filled with books, multicolored doors to explore the world and imagination.
I spent many blissful hours reading and daydreaming.
I still find myself wandering this library in my dreams.
My childhood library was a refuge and a bridge to opportunities.
Whenever I could, I escaped the chaos at home and rode my rusty red bike to hide in the peace and possibility the library offered. The librarians engaged and encouraged.
They noticed me.
“We have a special program tomorrow, do you want to come?”
“Look, here’s another mystery you might like.”
“Oh, did you know we have an entire room filled with travel books, come on I’ll show you where it is.”
“Hey, Lisa, we just got this brand new book on scholarships. Take a look.”
Expanding my library love.
When I went off to Duke ( I got those scholarships from the book), I explored every library on campus. It was one of the smaller libraries that I kept returning to for quiet study and solace when I needed it. When I moved to Seattle I couldn’t believe the wealth of offerings and variety in the neighborhood branches and in the big downtown central library. I was hooked. Libraries were my frugal but fun destination.
Of course, when we moved to Winters the library was almost our first stop. We got involved in the local Friends of the Library group. The library is a great first point of connection in any new place. We went for books and left with a new community of friends and service. Our volunteer work has helped us even more than it helped the library.
When I taught, I always took my students on class visits to introduce them to the added support and life long learning opportunities the library provides. I made “go to the library to check out any book you like” a weekly homework assignment.
When we were unschooling the library was a best bet for resources and a great location for gatherings with other learners. We could always get out of the house and relax while getting giant stacks of books on any new topics that caught our interest. For free.
Visiting the local library is now part of my itinerary no matter where I go. Tiny or massive, ancient or modern I visit libraries even if I only can pop in for a few minutes. I love to poke my nose in and see what’s happening.
Comparing, getting new ideas, learning.
I check all the rooms, book, displays, Friends Book Sale area, sitting areas. I love to get the sense and feel of each place to see what great ideas they have that I can bring home. I soak it all in and get my library high.
I guess you could say my childhood library was my gateway drug to a life of literacy, learning and love. Love of books, friends, discovery and connection.
I am sure that my library changed my direction in life. Sometimes I feel like it saved my life.
Please help me support my local library. In my small town library, the warmth of the staff, programs for toddlers to teens, and free access to books, the internet and information are also transforming lives.
Great opportunities for learning and connection, and the satisfaction of contributing beyond your self. At least that’s what we got and I am sure you can, too.
But, but, but what about money? What about time?
Find ways to live on less. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done, I’ve done it.
Prioritize your time. It might not be easy. Choose. It’s worth doing. Make time.
Figure what will give you the most value in helping you grow, learn, make a difference and enjoy life. Amazing things can happen when you get very clear on what is important to you.
Volunteering can help you get your priorities straight.
In college I volunteered to help cut firewood in the Duke Forests for people who couldn’t afford heating costs that unusually frigid spring. The contrast between the lives of the people we delivered the wood to, and life at my university changed the way I viewed the world. That weekend shaped my choices for the rest of my life.
After college I moved from North Carolina to Seattle, looking for new experiences. I took a receptionist position in a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome program. I thought I could make a contribution. Not. The system did not encourage taking any initiative beyond my very limited, boring job description.
Attending a Hiroshima Day Event opened my eyes to how many other ways I could be spending my time. I started volunteering, after work, with a peace and social justice organization. I was excited, meeting a wider variety of people and being challenged to learn new skills. I wanted my time to count.
Volunteering leads to new skills.
Deciding whether to dedicate more time to volunteering than earning money after college was my first real debate over time versus money.
I chose time and quit my full time job. I found part-time work as a cook in a Mexican restaurant, a nanny, and later as a dental assistant. I learned to hustle, to manage my time and my money. A frugal gourmet was born.
As a volunteer I learned skills I use over and over again. I worked one or two days per week to support myself. The rest of the time I volunteered and learned:
newsletter, flyer, poster, brochure writing and production (typewriter era : )
how to do press releases, press conferences, local pr
event logistics, planning and organization
consensus and community building, coalition building, community activism
non-violent communication, resistance and protest
educational resource management,
membership and volunteer recruitment and coordination
non profit leadership and management.
Volunteering opens doors.
Volunteering led to jobs, connections, career development, unexpected opportunities, and fabulous friends for me and for my child..
I gained the experience and confidence and to carry out all kinds of projects. I had the support to meet new challenges and keep learning.
When Dale was two, I rallied other moms and we began a volunteer story-time program at our local library
We sold books, baked, worked at events and helped raise funds for library. Dale had a pretty seamless transition from baby-on-board to board member status.
Volunteering as early and as often as he did, people saw that Dale worked hard and followed through. He was invited to try all kinds of activities beyond the volunteer work.
When Dale saw that our organization could benefit from a website, he offered to learn how to make one, and teach the rest of us how to use it.
Presto, new responsibilities, learning, and a huge leap in connections.
Dale’s volunteering influenced his college acceptances, scholarships, internships, and founding UnCollege.org.