Volunteering is opportunity to see world differently


Allie Sjullie

One of Allie Sjullie’s volunteering experiences took her to Kentucky for a week to help fix up a home.. She says that “volunteering is an opportunity to help see the world differently.”

Picture this: You leave for a church volunteer service trip to help someone in another state. Your volunteer group is pretty good, except two volunteers seem to constantly bicker. Turns out, you sit near them, and though it seems terrible at first, in those six hours together, you start to like them.

On the last day, one of the men is stung by a hornet and you know he’s allergic. The group asks the town’s residents where the nearest hospital is — two hours away.  You start to panic, but realize two amazing things from the trip experience. First, you’ve been able to forge a strong bond with someone in a short period of time. Second, when people who live in the town have an emergency, their options are really limited.

This is a real story of when I went to Kentucky for a week with a volunteer group to help fix up a couple’s trailer. My experience on this trip makes me realize that volunteering is an opportunity to help see the world differently.

While we were in Kentucky, I realized that I take a lot of things for granted. For example, I learned that every time the couple had enough money to buy an air conditioner, somebody would steal their new appliance.

Eventually, the couple decided to live without air conditioning (in the sweltering Southern heat and humidity) because they were just throwing the money away.

The couple also could only get groceries once a month. The nearest grocery store was two hours away. They couldn’t afford the gas their car would need if they went to the store every time they ran out of something.

At first, volunteers in my church group were shy and reluctant to talk with the couple — but the couple’s dogs were not as shy, and this eased the tension. We began connecting with the dogs, and then everybody felt more comfortable talking.

The couple began to share stories with us. By the end of the trip, we felt like we had known each other our whole lives.

People don’t tend to think about others’ lives.  We may only discover how challenging another person’s life is by experiencing some of it.  I know that seeing first-hand how some of the families in the Kentucky town lived their lives helped me see the world a little bit differently.

Another volunteer experience that I have had is to help at Green Square Meals in Cedar Rapids.

At Green Square Meals there are a lot of volunteers doing simple jobs, like washing produce or setting out desserts.  Some come just to serve the food and don’t cooking, and others  clean when the meal is over.  Last November, the Thanksgiving meal was a rewarding experience.  One lady who was there for dinner said that this was her first Thanksgiving meal in 10 years! Many people thanked us  and they had the most genuine smiles I’ve ever seen.

I also volunteer at Young Parents Network and babysit young parents’ kids while my mom teaches parenting classes. Some of the people participating are Latina and I’ve learned some Spanish to talk to kids who don’t understand English. Even though it sounds intimidating, talking to people I don’t know becomes easier and easier each time I volunteer.

Through serving others in the community and on trips, I’ve realized that asking for help is nothing to be frowned upon.  Sometimes all it takes is just that one week, one day, or one hour of volunteering to see this. My experiences help me view people who struggle in our community as regular people.

I’ve been able to connect with other volunteers, too, and everyone bonds over common interests and shared events. We all learn to trust and respect each other.  I’ve met many people and gained friends from very different backgrounds.  As an added bonus, I always feel refreshed and happy after helping someone else.

I hope that one day everyone will volunteer.  Our community will become so much better because of it.