“Well, I volunteer!”

The Chicago Tribune recently reported in an article titled, “Silicon ripple divides San Francisco,” about luxury coach bus service offered by Apple, Facebook, Google and other majors in the Silicon Valley to tech workers to get them to their jobs in the Valley. The private mass transit system appears to separate the high-tech riders with everyone else. The article goes on to say how this invasion of high-techies in the city is also driving up the cost of living for San Franciscans. The transportation service is being viewed as a showy display of wealth; and that grates on people who resent the power of the tech industry. Ordering food and other items are done online so they do not visit corner stores or neighborhood shops, conversing with others during social interaction. Their heads are buried in their smartphones when they walk the streets. They appear to be disconnected from their neighborhoods. 

There was an underlying implication I thought was interesting and the article briefly mentioned it. But first. 

I have been volunteering for over 10 years after amassing enough skills and experience in the advertising, banking and non-profit industries to apply to most work environments.  

I get asked from persistent ones with frowns on their faces, “Just what ARE you doing here?”

 “Well, I volunteer,” I answer. I can understand when asked why I would volunteer if I don’t get paid for my valuable work.

 I recently wrote an essay about taking a ride with Jeanne. I accompanied Jeanne, a little person who is confined to a wheelchair, to her ophthalmology appointment, riding in a clanky, metal clapping medic-van with her. This was my first time volunteering as a companion to a senior for a doctor’s appointment. As I understood, my responsibilities were to carry an envelope of paperwork, fill out medical forms, and hand the tidy paper packet over to the nice lady at the reception desk. I was concerned from the moment we left the lobby of Jeanne’s place. I was afraid that things would not go well and I wouldn’t know what to do. Well, some things didn’t go well, but those turn of events taught me some life lessons I would not have learned if I had not volunteered.

I learned on my afternoon with Jeanne that my world is not exclusive to those like me but inclusive to others who work twelve or more hours a day with no break; to people who are dependent on those who work the long hours to get them to and from places, whose mobility depends on a chair with four wheels, who needs a companion just to get to an appointment.

 I volunteer out of my comfort zone. I subject myself to the outside of my inner world making me realize there are others, different from me who share my space, trying to navigate through it every day just like me.

 Volunteerism bridges a gap between those who create resentment by being exclusive and those who feel their disconnection to them. Volunteerism assimilates and unites the diversity in communities, a case for inclusion. There is much more to volunteering, participating in your own community. And you don’t have to be paid to reap the many benefits or even learn a few life lessons.

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