"Be not simply good, be good for something." - Henry David Thoreau
To be honest, the first time I ever volunteered I had no idea what I was doing. A friend of mine invited me to join him at a soup kitchen in Olean, NY, close to where I attended university. As soon as I stepped through the doors I was nervous, even a little bit scared. I am an introvert and here I was, with a group of people who have lived quite different experiences than me. I was intimidated and immediately went through the dining area into the kitchen to start helping prep for the meal.
I was given the short task of making jello and as I was finishing up, the coordinator of the soup kitchen walked in and welcomed me. He said, "Thanks for coming to help today. If you don't have anything to do back here you can go out and make conversation with the guests." He explained to me that one of the main goals of this soup kitchen was to create community and that meant doing more than just feeding the people. This was one of the most outside-my-comfort zone situations I had ever been in. I peered into the dining room filled with about forty or more people sitting at the tables with others continuing to come in from the snowy weather outside. I walked over and sat down at the friendliest looking table. To my surprise, I ended up having an amazing conversation about good places to go hiking and camping in the area. One of the guys at the table had lived here his entire life and knew a lot about the land. I went back the next day and then every chance I had. Only two weeks after that first interaction I was selected to work at the soup kitchen as a summer intern.
Today, I'm proud to say that I have volunteered my time in a number of ways. Each time I do, I feel more connected to people and really learn that we are all the same. Almost a year ago I had the opportunity to host an instameet for Make a Stand, a company that started when 9-year old Vivienne wanted to free slaves and did so by selling lemonade to raise money. Along with more than a dozen other instameets happening around the world that day, the turnout was great. By working with members of the Instagram community, the team at Make a Stand were able to grow their audience and reach even more people.
I believe that social media and organizations like this one can allow nonprofits to reach more people and at a faster pace. And when trusted members of a community such as Instagram begin reaching out to their peers and urge them to help out, then action will soon follow. Instead of using urgency, a tactic that is not effective overtime, we can use social media to build strong connections that are meaningful and lead to change.
If you were like me when I first walked into that soup kitchen almost ten years ago and feel a bit strange volunteering your time, I would suggest you give it a try. I'm excited to see what can happen when influencers on Instagram promote not just nonprofits, but social change in every aspect. We are living in an important time in history, but we have to make it count. The more shareable media becomes and the more widely available it is to anyone, the more our social identity matters. Keep being courageous and living life to the best of your ability. People will notice.