If you're as fortunate as I have been, you've gotten involved in something that changed your life. Five years ago as a freshman in college, I participated in a volunteer experience that changed mine.
I was a member of a group who worked with an organization that built wheelchair ramps for people in the community. Every year they had an event called Ramp Fest and a group from my school spent a week volunteering.
During that time, we had the opportunity to meet people and learn a lot about a community that was not our own. We helped other groups build ramps for families, but we also had a project to complete as a group. Our task was to build a wheelchair ramp for a woman who was unable to leave her home for nearly a year due to a disability and an un-accessible front door and porch.
Throughout the course of the week we got to know Lucille and she got to know us. She was kind, sweet and even made us brownies for our hard work and dedication. When the ramp was finally completed she came out to take a photo with us. She looked at us with such appreciation and gratitude and I knew then I had made a difference not only in her life, but in mine as well.
That day I realized the importance of volunteering and helping those in need and knew that I wanted to continue helping others. After reaching alumni status in a national community service scholarship program, completing three terms of AmeriCorps and now coordinating a volunteer program, I find myself writing this piece to inform and educate people about the very thing I have dedicated my life to doing.
Volunteerism is very broad term. It encompasses many things and whether or not you realize it, you have volunteered in some capacity during your lifetime. Most people think that community service and volunteering is charity, but it's actually not.
There are lots of ways to volunteer in your community.
* VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is made up of people who volunteer to file income taxes. We are currently recruiting volunteers for the upcoming tax season. You don't have to have experience —just a spirit of volunteerism and be open to a new experience.
* Wonderland of Lights, RCIL's signature fundraiser, is another volunteer opportunity which runs everyday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Nov. 26 to Jan. 1 at the Masonic Care Community campus. Volunteers are needed at the gatehouse for various things.
* You could also volunteer in our Youth Impact Program which is a collaborative effort between RCIL and The Underground Café. Doing something alone for the first time can be a little scary so if you don't want to volunteer alone, get your friends involved.
As a professional I still realize the importance of volunteering. I do it on a weekly basis and it is very fulfilling for me.
Chrystal Pridemore is the Resource Center for Independent Living project coordinator.