"Last year, I volunteered at an awesome organization that works to prevent the dual crises of HIV/AIDS and homelessness. They have a huge bookstore as well as a few thrift stores around NYC that are almost entirely staffed by volunteers.
"It was an awesome thing to be a part of, and I met some amazing friends. Eventually, my schedule changed, and I had to stop volunteering, but I'm really grateful for the experience. The biggest thing I learned — or remembered, really — is that there are good people working for important change everywhere.
"After graduating college, I lived in solidarity with a community for 10 months working for a nonprofit located near Skid Row. Our office prepared low-income and homeless individuals with job preparation classes and résumés, and provided them with many resources to secure housing and employment so they could become self-sufficient.
"Whenever clients received employment, the entire office would gather in the lobby as they rang the 'success bell.' The sound it made, and the joy it brought our clients, made every hour of service worth it."
"In my spare time, I work as a volunteer teacher with an organization that teaches girls how to code. This past school year was my first, so I learned a lot about how each student learns in a slightly different way, at slightly different paces. Some of the challenges I faced were obvious — coding can be complicated. But some of the biggest challenges were more subtle: How do I know if my students are liking the material and actually learning? How do I just be a good teacher, but also a mentor when they need one? And how do I remind them that coding can be creative and beautiful?
"It was a really cool experience, though exhausting. I have so much more respect for my teachers now. I'm going back this school year; it's going to be awesome."
"I'm a volunteer firefighter and can say I have learned tons of life lessons. One of the biggest I've learned is that, if you're going to do something, do it the right way first. Whether it be cleaning tools or trying to force entry into a room, doing it the right way first can be the difference between getting really hurt or coming home safely. All in all: DONT TAKE SHORTCUTS!"
"I spent a summer in Arkansas building houses in Little Rock. We worked with a group of older guys who called themselves The Over-the-hill Gang. When they found out that our group only ate cereal and milk for breakfast, they were appalled.
"So, the following week, the whole group came to the church where we were staying at 6 a.m. to cook us a full biscuits-and-gravy breakfast with all the fixings. Work that day was ultimately more difficult after eating it, but I learned the lengths our work friends were willing to go to show their appreciation and also how crazy different the culture in the South was from anything I had ever experienced growing up in New Jersey. Showing appreciation in that way was simple, but that kind and thoughtful bit of Southern hospitality is something I've taken with me ever since!"
"I used to help build houses for charity in Charleston, SC, and met an old staffer named Skip. One time, while taking measurements, he said to me, 'When you're a kid and you're in elementary school, they give you that big fat pencil and safety scissors so you won't hurt yourself. As you get older, you get that paper with the three lines, then they go down to two, then notebook paper. In high school, you can write with whatever you want, but when you get out...' — then he held up his big fat measurement pencil — '...they give you the big fat one again. Life's funny like that.'"
"When I was in college, I mentored a kid while he was in second through sixth grade. Sometimes we'd do homework, but it mostly meant talking with him during lots of basketball and kickball. On a day he was being especially rambunctious, I grabbed the ball out of the air right before he could kick it. He fell, landed flat on his back, and went silent. I kept talking to him and finally gleaned, through a couple of head nods, that he wasn't physically hurt so much as mentally. I was about to give up on playing when I simply said 'I'm sorry.'
"Immediately he got up, grabbed the ball, and said, 'That's all I wanted to hear.' Then everything went back to normal. I realized that they're just two words, but the size of the sentence has nothing to do with how powerful the words in it can be."
"Over the course of a year, my roommates and I fostered five different dogs (including one enormous St. Bernard in our moderately sized town home. So. Many. Hairballs). As a foster dog parent, you learn how to share everything: your home, your space, your food, your bed, your time. You learn how to be patient, how to put others first, and how to say goodbye even if it hurts. I think we cried every time, but it was so worth it to see all of our pups go to amazing homes."
"Years ago, I had the opportunity to take an entrepreneurship class administered by an external organization at my high school. It was the first time in my life I felt passionate about classwork and was able to fuel my curiosity in business/entrepreneurship. Over the past two years, I've jumped back into the program, but this time on the flip side as a mentor to students in the same program.
"I've learned quite a few life lessons: the importance of helping a younger generation shape the future, how much you can learn and grow by helping others, and the little effort it takes to have a lasting impact on students (especially when creating opportunities for themselves, where opportunities may not have existed originally).
"If I can positively influence the students directly through mentorship or indirectly by being a role model as someone who came through the program, that would be a life lesson in its own right."
"For a few weeks, I did community service in and around the city of Kingston. I had the eye-opening opportunity to spend time with the poor people of Jamaica, learn about their realities, and bear witness to their struggle. Most importantly, I had an opportunity to immerse myself in Jamaica's vibrant culture.
"Through all the suffering, its people remain resilient and hopeful; they were grateful with the simple things they do own.
"In my short time there, I learned two things: the power in giving (even something as simple as a hug can drastically change a person's mood and the energy in a room) and the importance of acknowledging another person's presence. This trip inspired a lifelong commitment to service and solidarity with the people of Jamaica, and the rest of the world. #onelove."