2017 has seen a rise in volunteerism from young people immediately after the election. ACLU reported receiving more than $15 million dollars’ worth of donations from 241,480 people, and Planned Parenthood has continued to see a steady outpouring of volunteers.
I sometimes get overwhelmed with how much passion I feel for certain causes and all the ways in which I want to help. To help me focus, I ask myself a series of questions: What do I care about the most? Where is my voice, my energy, going to be put to best use? It took me a while to figure it out, but now I have some causes that I regularly give myself over to, and it allows me to make a difference in the world.
If you’re like me and you care about things deeply and want to help, but can get stuck because you aren’t sure of what to do or where to go; in fact, you don’t even know what you want to fight for because it all feels necessary, I write this with you in mind.
Start Out Small
When I first moved to Portland, almost 10 years ago, one of the first causes I donated to was an annual HIV/AIDS Walk. My best friend Joseph worked for the local company that puts on the walk every year, and he told me I should walk with them. Not knowing anyone, but wanting to help, I walked. I ended up donating $25 to them, and have since continued walking every year for about 6 years. Over the years that I’ve fundraised for this cause, I didn’t break the bank with my donations, but definitely didn’t show up empty handed. Later on, I put forth some time and energy to working the same company’s annual Art Auction. It was fun, I got to dress up fancy and be a cheerleader to coax more and more money from people bidding on art. At the time I knew I wanted to give myself over to volunteering, but wasn’t quite sure I knew how. Being able to give a little bit of myself felt like a good place to start.
Make it Special
I love children. Especially babies. I’m 37 years old, and I don’t think I’ll be having my own children, but it doesn’t mean I can’t help out the babies in this world that might need a little extra love. I spoke in my last column about volunteering to hold babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It’s been such a rewarding activity and one of the things I’m most proud of. Some of these babies are incredibly sick and it’s hard to see. But, the minute I pick up a little one, I talk to them, and make sure they know I’m there to give them only love. I have a regular Saturday shift and come in for four hours to make sure babies are comfortable, cared for, and nuzzled with love. Most weeks I spend an afternoon holding onto a baby, whispering to them about how much of a warrior they are, and getting in some baby squeezes.
Follow Your Politics
The last few years my feminism and politics have focused, paving an easy path for me to contribute within my political beliefs. I have to admit, I don’t like knocking on people’s doors, nor do I enjoy stopping people on the street to ask them to sign things. It’s a necessary part of volunteering, but it’s not what I like doing. I’m more of a back-room, stuff some envelopes and enter some data kind of person, but I’ll try whatever needs to be done. The last year or two I have volunteered my time with Planned Parenthood and I have loved it. I’m often jumping into Volunteer Nights to make condom packets, buttons, or filing papers. Recently, I’ve added the role of Clinic Escort to the mix. Being on the front lines bringing people into the clinic is equal parts intimidating and empowering. Shortly, I’ll be trained to work with the outreach team, which I am super excited about.
Donate, Donate, Donate
If you can’t make time to go out and physically volunteer, consider giving some money to a cause or organization you really believe in. I can’t get to every single protest, I can’t get out and volunteer for every single cause, but I can give money when and where I can. I know money is tight, and it’s hard when you’re basically scraping by paying rent and eating, but any amount helps, so don’t think it needs to be some large sum of money. I give $10 a month to Planned Parenthood and $10 to my local NPR station. They’re small sums, but it’s what I feel I can contribute every month.
Admittedly, I don’t do this enough. As we’ve seen in the last few months, large protests can turn into riots, and frankly, that scares me. We have all been pushed to anger, and I understand it, but I am not brave enough to be on the front lines during these times. It’s something I’m working on, especially because I want to be a strong ally, so I need to do the work. I did show up for the Women’s March this past January, and it was one of the most cathartic days of my life. The sickness the country felt after Trump’s inauguration really mobilized people, at least for the day, and it felt so good to be around so many like-minded individuals. But, one day won’t make a lasting impression, and keeping up the protests in our day-to-day lives is what will help get the message across. If you’re not into crowds (no shame!) or you had negative feelings about the Women’s March (it did feel pointed toward white women until changes were made, especially here in Portland), you can protest with your money. Take your money to places that support what you believe in, and don’t spend money on corporations or businesses which do not align with your own beliefs.
If you aren’t used to volunteering, or getting involved in something political, it will probably feel overwhelming. But you can involve your friends in these activities, too! Make volunteering a fun activity for a group of you to do on a weekend so it doesn’t feel so strenuous or scary for you. If you believe in a certain candidate running for local office, get involved that way. If you believe in safe and easy access to women’s health care, get involved with your local Planned Parenthood. There are a lot of ways to give back, and all opportunities are not the same. Find what fits for you, if it does fit at all, and go from there.