I learned many skills through volunteering, it helps me in networking and keeps my brain active. For me, it’s been nothing but beneficial. I recommend it!
I started using hard drugs in my twenties, then I went to university to earn a degree in community studies. Because of my drug use, after graduating I ended up living in the streets for several years. I would always utilize any resources out there, like food banks, shelters, and day centres. So, I became familiar with United Way from that perspective.
At one food bank, I made a real connection with someone who was working there. She was so loving and caring and never judgemental. It became a place of solace. I just wanted to go in there and talk.
But I was also helping out all the time, with after-school programs and food preparation for instance. It’s a family thing. My mother volunteered and so did her sister. I’ve done it so many times, I can’t remember all of them. It makes me feel good, that’s the number one reason why I do it—just the joy I feel from the people that I interact with, that I’ve done something to make them feel better. When I was in university, I worked with a restorative justice program for young offenders. Four or five of these kids wrote me thank you letters for helping them. I’m genuinely proud of that.
I struggle with depression. I might have been dead today if I hadn’t volunteered. Many times, volunteering made me have to get up and go out. When I had an obligation, I would live up to it, even while I was using drugs. If you have nothing but time on your hands, why not give that time? There are more than enough needs to go around. Do what you can. Maybe you have never volunteered and don’t realize how good it is to give instead of receive.
Many people are afraid to volunteer, but we could overcome that with communication, by reaching out and talking to someone you don’t know. A smile does a lot. The language doesn’t matter—it’s what is in your heart that counts.
Today I have a place to live, and I’m no longer a hard drug user. I’m 62 years old, and I’m alive. So that’s a success story. I may have had a rough life, but I don’t consider it like that. It’s just my life.