“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” —Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein’s timeless poem explains a great deal of what I have accomplished in my life, and the “can do” attitude that was passed down through my family. That negative attitude is one that many people face, and can create adversity that we must face in order to succeed in life. It can be daunting to overcome the negativity, but it must be done. There is always someone who is willing to be a friendly voice, a mentor, an audience, or who can pass on a clue as to what is possible if you try. That is why I volunteer in education. I do not have any children, I am not a teacher, and I am not in a profession that typically works with children. However, I was a child who loved to compete and stretch my mind. My competitions were always judged and coached by people who were open and interested in developing young minds, but then—as now—there are too few people choosing to take on that responsibility!
A study completed in February 2014 by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCC) found that in the study year ending in September 2013, the latest year for which statistics are publically available, 25.4% (62,615,000 people) of US residents volunteer. Of those people, 9.8% volunteer to tutor or teach, 6.7% volunteer to mentor youth, and 5.7% volunteer with team sports. The numbers of volunteers by race are disheartening to me. These numbers may seem pretty large, but we have to remember that there were an estimated 73,585,872 people under the age of 18 in the United States in 2013 according to the US Census Bureau. The ability of to reach all of those children is affected by locations, need, ability, the availability of the volunteers, and knowing when and where the opportunities to volunteer are.
The CNCC study also found that approximately 40.8% of total volunteers were asked to volunteer, and 43.0% sought out opportunities to volunteer. I am frequently one of the people who seeks out opportunities to volunteers, and you should be too! When recently asked about why I volunteer to judge Academic Decathlons, I responded that it was because people volunteered to judge Academic Decathlons that I competed in when I was young, and now it is my turn to pay it forward. I am definitely not the only person volunteering for those reasons, but I can tell you from year-to-year experience that there are not enough of us!
Volunteering for short-term educational volunteer activities give you the advantage of being able to make a difference in the lives of children when you do not have a large amount of time to invest in a long-term volunteer activities, and to help realize the hard-work of young minds. You can help provide important opportunities to thousands of children by allocating a total of one week per year to showing up, and listening to children speak. That is a powerful impact with a small time investment.
I truly appreciate the people who came out to make my educational endeavors successful as a child, but I was always looking for someone to identify with and be inspired by. I think that is true for everyone. Sometimes it is a matter of race, gender, age, personal style, hair color, profession, attitude, or whatever a person needs and wants to identify with. Having a diverse volunteer force in educational activities gives children something to identify with, and drive them to work harder for whatever reasons they have.