Volunteering challenges you to do what you never did before
Below is a piece written by friend and volunteer of United Way of King County, Vidhi Surana Datar. Her stories about how being a Bridge to Basics Intake volunteer changed her perspective are touching and insightful and speak to the power of volunteering and the fabric of community.
Being from the field of computers I was excited about doing tax filing in the Free Tax Preparation Campaign by United Way of king County. But I was disappointed as I was late for it. But When Nora Peters; now a dear friend asked me about joining the Bridge to basics program I was skeptical about how it is going to be. But I said yes as volunteering is volunteering. You can’t keep yourself away from anything just because you haven’t done it before. Back in India when I volunteered, I was told that volunteering challenges you to do what you never did before and then slowly increases you niche of capabilities. It turned out so true for me; then and now!
The first day I entered into the Tax site, I realized that this is going to bring “change” in myself as a person and it definitely did. Working both as an Intake Volunteer and B2B Volunteer was quite challenging. Mainly due to the fact that most of the time we are alone in the whole shift ready to act as an entry point for all the clients who come for tax filing and B2B. Within first few weeks of 40 clients in each shift was the time I got to learn the most. I started to learn to intake everyone as well as ask them for any possible benefits they would like to avail; be it food, utility, electricity, housing , job training, parent help, child care. And yes I started getting people who were unaware of the food stamps application and were willing to sit for 30 minutes to answer all my questions while they wait for their name to be called for tax filing. I consider myself to be grateful to them as they listened patiently to my sometimes weird questions :) but they were so quiet & patient that I never felt bored to do what I was supposed to do. And the smile on their face after they were helped was something that gave me strength to try to enroll as many as possible without even hesitating to go personally to each person and ask them because you never know if someone really needs it or if someone doesn’t know about it and should be applying for it. It was worth the try as Nora told me once!
As the weeks went by, I realized the impact this program was making in the lives of people; who are able to support themselves but are victims of bad times in their lives or bad situations surrounding them. Staying for more than two years in US, I never would have realised the fact that there is a large extent of people who are suffering from so many diverse problems. Slowly I also learnt that I am not here to judge someone on anything, I just have to focus on doing my best to guide them so that they get the benefits which they are entitled to.
Being a female volunteer, I always saw the openness with which a female client spoke to me. Obviously girls can open their heart to any other girl if they feel to. And it happened to me lot of times and I felt good about it as it feels good to listen to problems of others and make them feel that its alright. At this time, I never felt that language was a barrier in my work. Many times a question was asked and answered in sign languages and understood by both :) I remember I had people from different parts of the world, from cities I never even heard of. I slowly realized that life is so difficult for some but still they are so patient and ready to listen. Heard stories I never heard of- unemployment, immigration, personal issues, language problems or lack of education etc. Then you come know how small your world of problems are and you need to learn from them. I learned!
When a 75 year old man sitting next to me for filling B2B was ready to skip his number for tax filing and started to help me by greeting the incoming clients and give them the intake sheet, I was overwhelmed by his generosity! Then when a lady told me to leave as my shift is over and she said “Oh! I can come next time, you should go home!” A family with two little daughters waited patiently when I was busy in-taking people and roaming to charge my laptop somewhere. I appreciate the quality in all the people I met, as they were ready to wait and complete their application given the fact that I don’t speak their language.
Overall it was the best volunteering experience I ever had! Though I feel I devoted very less time to it and wish to get an opportunity in future and try to give more time. I would strongly encourage everyone to go and join the Bridge to Basics program or any such program. If you have the time to devote towards making your community members more self dependent and it would in turn help in making your community a better place to live!