Not long ago I was wearing a Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) sweatshirt at school, and someone asked what it was. When I explained that YVC is a network of youth volunteers, the first thing he said was, “Why would you do work you don’t get paid for?” That’s a great question, one that I had weirdly not thought about before.
I have been volunteering from a young age when my parents would take me to soup kitchens with my church. Eventually in middle school I had been volunteering for a while and decided to join the volunteer club there. In 7th grade I first learned about YVC through their summer of service program, and within the first hour on the first day of the week-long project, I fell in love with YVC. I went on mission trips, and kept volunteering whenever and wherever I could. I continued to work with YVC through middle and high school, joining Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and International Youth Advisory Board (IYAB), and in my freshman year I joined my high school service club, which I am now president of. For me, service has always just been a part of my life, and I had never really given much thought to why I do it, it was simply a part of my life. Now as I prepare to head off to college next semester, I could use all the money I can get. So why am I working for free? Am I being ripped off? I had to take a step back and think about this for a while in order to come up with an answer, and it honestly bothered me a bit that I had never given this much consideration before. After some deliberation, I realized that the answer is quite simple: it allows me to see the world.
I see the parts and people of my community that would have otherwise been hidden from me by circumstance and privilege. I have been fortunate enough to have the memory of watching a patron sing at a soup kitchen in downtown Kansas City, and I remember she had such a beautiful voice and a kind spirit, which I never would have been able to experience otherwise. I also got to hear the experiences of a man who was once homeless, and his stories of the struggles of homelessness and life on the streets exposed me to a new perspective that I could never have heard outside of the realm of community service. I have gotten to meet animals that have been abused and neglected, and learn how to help and comfort them. I have met individuals at a home for the elderly and gotten to hear their stories. Through them, I have learned of wars and peace, of love and sadness. They are some of the most lively people on the planet, with the sweetest senses of humor that I might never have met. I have tutored children, and though I may have helped teach them math and reading, they helped to teach me creativity and joy. They sparked something greater within me, and inspired me to find my inner child at the times in my life when I felt most stressed.
Through volunteering, I have been blessed with many opportunities to see the world through the eyes of others, and this has made me a more compassionate person. In everyday life I find myself expressing greater empathy and searching for new ways to see the world, and without this perspective I truly believe that my life would be too dull to bear at times. So, as it turns out, I am getting paid for my work. I am getting paid in memory and experience, in empathy, kindness, and a renewed passion for life that has helped me through hardships. Most of all, I have been paid in love, for the world and its people, for my life and my circumstances. Service has imbued me with a passion and dedication that I doubt I could find elsewhere, and this is more than enough compensation for my work.
Zoe Thompson is a senior in high school in Kansas City. She enjoys volunteering, reading, playing the cello, and playing with her golden retriever.