For our week of Outreach and Charity, Domestic Volunteer Anna Robinson shares the lessons she has learned through multiple years and ways of volunteering, encouraging everyone to look at service in a new light.

Volunteering was a requirement of me and my siblings growing up. Trips to the food pantry, the history museum, group highway clean-ups, we were dragged along to them all. And I fought it almost every single time. I hated volunteering. I thought there were better things I could have been doing with my time, more fun things. But volunteering was very important to my parents, so “volunteer” we did.

When I got to college my hours spent in service lessened more and more for a while. I was finally free to say “no” and spend my time how I wanted. Then my first spring break came along and the school was offering a service trip to another state working on building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Travel? That was definitely something I was interested in. And at least I wouldn’t be picking up trash, so I signed up. I found that I enjoyed being outside, swinging a hammer.

Anna volunteering to build houses in the rural mountains of West Virginia.

More of these trips were offered, plus some local days working on houses. Through one interest I found another; building. This opened up my mind to service work –

Volunteer Lesson 1: Find volunteering opportunities that included interests I had, addressing issues I cared about, and I found value in my time spent in service. Plus, through those opportunities I found new interests.

I began to volunteer with Habitat on my own and did so often enough that I got to know the workers and regular volunteers, too.  They were old and young from all walks of life.  They shared with me stories of being in the army, building a deck on their house, their favorite music, and taught me new techniques with carpentry and painting. I realized something else about volunteering then –

Volunteer Lesson 2: it opens the door to meeting so many interesting and wise people – other volunteers, those being served. I learned so many new things – new skills, new philosophies. It’s a mutual exchange of lessons and experiences. Now, meeting people is half the fun and benefit I get from volunteering.

Senior year came and I had to figure out what I was going to do after graduation. I looked into service-years; programs that allow you to work for a small stipend and provide the bare-necessities. I found a program I liked working with Lakota students at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge reservation. I like working with kids and learning about new cultures, so it seemed a good fit for me. As the year went on I learned another service lesson –

Volunteer Lesson 3: through practice, service becomes a habit, a reflex. I started to offer to help, because I saw it was needed. Volunteering turned from something I planned for, to a way I just lived my life. Service taught me generosity, kindness, humility, community-building, problem-solving, spirituality, self-examination, the list goes on.  And I naturally became hooked on a lifestyle that was more fulfilling.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
-Rabindranath Tagore

Not everyone will take a year off to live on volunteer stipends. Not everyone will travel far distances to offer their time. But everyone can be a volunteer. As my service-loving parents have told me, “Need is everywhere”. And everyone can do something, no matter how small, change lives and be changed.

Anna Robinson serves as a full-time volunteer at the Franciscan Mission Service office as a communications associate. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2011 with a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Music Composition. She just returned from spending two weeks in South Africa testing our Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip.