The Unexpected Lessons of Volunteering

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in blog | 0 comments

“Am I making a difference?”

It is a common question that crosses all of our minds at some point. In most circumstances we get the answer we are searching for whether it comes in the form of a promotion at work, a hug from our kids at home or a good grade on a big test at school.

However not every situation lends itself to the obvious confirmation we look for.   Volunteering with young people is one example in which the answer can be obscured by walls of what some might mistake as apathy and even dislike.   Although these walls may appear off-putting; the reality is that if we are brave enough to look beyond them, the answer we find might be better than we could even hope for.

Jeff Andreasen, a mentor for P4K’s North High School 11th graders, says that he was amazed by what he learned from a recent survey that was given to both P4K volunteers and students. The question that caught his attention was whether or not students cared about their mentor showing up to meetings. “The results showed that only 30% of mentors thought their students cared if their mentors came to meetings, while over 70% of students said mentors’ meeting attendance is really important to them,” explains Andreasen.

Though the numbers show that Andreasen and his fellow volunteers are making an impression on their students, Andreasen can’t help feeling that the biggest impact being made is the one his students make on him.

“It’s funny, I’m a 55 year-old guy and yet I’m still learning from these 17-year-old kids,” Andreasen says.  “The situations they are faced with outside of the classroom are far from easy, yet they make a conscious choice to show up and do what they need to in order to succeed.  It’s a unique group of kids that say, ‘I’m going to make a better life for my future.’   It takes guts! ”

Andreasen says that in addition to all that he has learned from his students in the year and a half he has been volunteering with Partnership 4 Kids, he has also come to understand that the best thing he can do as a mentor is simply to show up and show his students that it’s ok to be human.

“I want to be as transparent as I can,” he says.  “Sure I share my successes with them but I also want to share my failures as well. I think it’s important for kids to know its ok to whiff once in a while.  Life is made up of lots of mistakes; all you can do is learn from them and try not to make them twice.”

*To learn more about volunteering with Partnership 4 Kids, visit:  http://www.p4k.org/give/volunteer/

 

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