I Want to be a Volunteer When I Grow Up!

The Obstacles

Since I was a teenager, I’ve always had a little flicker of desire to be a volunteer. I admired my classmates and people on TV wearing matching t-shirts, standing behind tables and handing out SWAG to strangers for a cause they believed in. There were two problems, though. One, I couldn’t really pinpoint a cause I was passionate about. And two, of course, was my anxiety.

Volunteering meant working with people I didn’t know in a place I wasn’t familiar with doing things I’d never done before and answering questions I probably didn’t know the answers to. Anxiety level? Extreme. So sadly, I never actually became a volunteer, but rather admired from a distance people who did selfless work and dreamt about being like them in an alternate reality where panic and fear didn’t dominate my goals and ambitions.

But then the 2016 election happened. After spending a few weeks crying, dry heaving, and researching the steps necessary to move to Canada, my fears morphed into a desire to act. It didn’t take long for the Resistance to take hold, and my Facebook newsfeed was full of articles on how to do something about this (still) unbelievable atrocity that had occurred. Donating to nonprofits like the ACLU, the EPA, and Planned Parenthood was one suggestion. And since my one and a half “real” jobs and highly unprofitable writing side gig hadn’t yielded piles of cash (yet), I quickly moved onto the next bulleted suggestion – volunteering. The anxiety was still present, for sure, but it was now overpowered by the furious sense of injustice I felt and an undeniable need to act. I could no longer allow my fears to dominate the choices I made in my life, at least when it came to social justice. I may not have been able to change to results of the election and its subsequent laundry list of ludicrous executive orders, but I was damn sure I was going to do everything in my power to be a part of the Resistance.

Choosing which cause to support wasn’t that difficult for me. I knew I wanted to help an organization that protected women’s rights, and since my mom has struggled with health problems her entire life, I also knew that protecting the Affordable Care Act was a huge priority. Enter Planned Parenthood. Fingers trembling, I filled out the online new volunteer form and hit the ‘send’ button. I was proud of myself for taking that first step, but I didn’t hear anything back for quite some time, and immediately thought the worst – that my lack of previous volunteer experience made me unqualified to get involved.

But then one day I got an email back inviting me to an orientation at the organization’s main office in downtown Pittsburgh. The message also mentioned that in the two months since the election, they’d received over 700 new volunteer applications. This news brought tears of pride and hope to my eyes. I felt a sense of overwhelming encouragement that so many people wanted to work together to join the Resistance.

So one bitter cold January day, I strode into the building and took a seat amongst dozens of other new volunteers wanting to help in any way they could. The meeting was jam packed with information, and while I left feeling optimistic and inspired, I was also overwhelmed. There was so much I didn’t know and so much to learn. My anxiety crept up again, wondering if I’d ever be able to memorize information about the Hyde Act, Margaret Sanger, and government processes. I was hesitant to sign up for any events for a while, but then I figured what the heck. I did some of my own research and read up on Planned Parenthood’s history and current work, and began to feel more enlightened and confident. One day I attended a town hall meeting with one of our state’s representatives, and a few weeks later I participated in an environmental march and actually made rounds approaching strangers in the crowd to get them to ally with PP. Last summer I stood in ninety degree heat for four hours handing out condoms, lip balm, and pens to those attending Pittsburgh Pride, and had a blast doing it. I also spoke to dozens of people about PrEP, a medication that can help prevent HIV. (If you’re unfamiliar with PrEP, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you aren’t in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive, it’s an awesome medical development and more people need to know about it)!

Hurdle Cleared

I’ve only attended half a dozen or so events with PP over the last few months, and I don’t claim to be one of the superheroes highlighted in their monthly newsletter. But being a volunteer has taught me a lot about the organization, the power of people in numbers, and myself. I’ve realized that there are so many good people in this world and that there is hope for the future despite the orange shadow currently cast over our country. I’ve adopted their “non-engagement” policy when it comes to the opposition, and simply ignore those who refuse to stand for social justice. Instead of posting memes on Facebook and getting into arguments with strangers on the Internet, I’m volunteering my time, educating myself, and enlightening others with facts, not propaganda.  I’m fighting for what’s right and what is fair, and that is how I will #RESIST.



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