There's one word that nearly every teenager dreads

There's one word that nearly every teenager dreads: volunteering. Instead of capturing the true essence of volunteering, which is to help people out of the goodness of one's heart, it has evolved into something almost forced upon teens like me. More and more educational based programs in high school are requiring people to volunteer, making people feel as if they are “voluntold” because they are left with little choice but to do it.

There seems to be a stigma behind volunteering as if it is some tedious task that offers no rewards or benefits. This couldn't be further from the truth as in my experience, volunteering has positive benefits on both the me as the volunteer and the person I am helping. It has helped shape me as a person and is continuing to guide my future career path in medicine.There's one word that nearly every teenager dreads: volunteering. Instead of capturing the true essence of volunteering, which is to help people out of the goodness of one's heart, it has evolved into something almost forced upon teens like me.

More and more educational based programs in high school are requiring people to volunteer, making people feel as if they are “voluntold” because they are left with little choice but to do it. There seems to be a stigma behind volunteering as if it is some tedious task that offers no rewards or benefits. This couldn't be further from the truth as in my experience, volunteering has positive benefits on both the me as the volunteer and the person I am helping. It has helped shape me as a person and is continuing to guide my future career path in medicine.

When I first started volunteering, I had no clue that my help could positively impact lives and saw it only as a requirement to meet my NHS hours. When I originally started volunteering, I discovered an opportunity that was related to baseball: a passion of mine. This opportunity was through a program called League of Champions, an adaptive sports league with the purpose of teaching and helping kids with special disabilities play baseball. My responsibility was to be a “buddy” for a young kid with a disability. The range of disabilities were from less severe in autism to more severe conditions like Prader-Willis syndrome, all having their own unique challenge.

I was nervous at first because as I met the kids, I quickly realized the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I had never been given so much responsibility before and did not want to mess up. I was introduced to “Jacob” (name different for anonymity) who was born with down syndrome, which results from a genetic mutation in which an additional chromosome is added. This condition results in decreased physical strength and lower mental abilities. Programs, such as League of Champions, are essential because they provide kids with opportunities to improve their physical and social wellbeing, which in turn, improves the “quality of life” of these kids and gives them a greater opportunity to succeed in society(citation).

I also witnessed how sports provides kids the opportunity to make friends, increase fitness and to have fun. Many children with similar disabilities are not as lucky as Jacob to have an outlet; many are unable to experience the same benefits that organized sports has to offer simply because they were born with a debilitating disability. Picture a young child looking longingly at the diamond without the access to play, simply because of his disability. Through no fault of this own he, and every child like him, have been robbed of so many opportunities to achieve success in the class, sports and in society due to lack of resources to care for disabilities. It has been very rewarding for me to see the progress that my “buddy” has made; it has not only increased my awareness of this societal challenge but my responsibility to be the sponsor these kids need to develop similar programs in other sports and locations. I have been able to witness his progression as I continue to build a deeper relationship with him.

When I was first paired with “Jacob”, all he would do was play in the dirt as he would not throw, catch, or hit. He also would not speak in sentences to me and I was usually subjected to the high pitch screams that would accompany every time I asked him to stop rolling in dirt. However the more time I got to spend with him he soon began to listen more and also talk to me. While they weren’t big steps, even the tiniest of progressions have shown me that I was positively impacting his development.I began to notice that while I was able to withstand the wilting 90 degree weather “Jacob” could not, because “In comparison with their non-disabled peers, individuals with intellectual disabilities have decreased muscle strength, higher body mass index and other obesity factors” (Citation). His disability prevented him from being able to do the same things I could so I had to adapt the way we played to ensure his safety. Just like how he progressed his speech and social skills, he improved his physical health. 

It started with his ability to play for longer periods of time without having to sit down, which I noticed reduced his dirt playing time because he now didn’t have to sit down in the infield so frequently. His fine motor skills also improved as he soon started actually catching the balls when in the beginning, he just let them roll past him. This improvement is because“regular training improves the cardiovascular fitness levels of individuals with intellectual disabilities to levels equal to non cognitively delayed individuals’ (Ryan et al. 33). This allowed both Jacob and I to enjoy ourselves more as we were both encouraged by the progress.My volunteering wasn't just a beneficial experience for Jacob, but it was also beneficial for me. It permanently changed my outlook on volunteering as I began to enjoy my time and actively sought out other opportunities.

I went into this program only thinking that this would improve my likelihood of getting into a good college: it certainly wasn’t to better someone else's life rather to improve my own. After this experience, however I realized that the most important factor was the self satisfaction knowing that I helped someone else, this “altruistic/value driven experience” is evident in over “83.2” of responses made by regular volunteers which supports (citation). This feeling of accomplishment after volunteering has been proven to help “reduce stress”, “depression”, “increase self-satisfaction”, and “self-esteem” which are all important in improving the well being of an individual (Citation). I could now forget the negatives in my life as I was able to push through stress because I had a positive outlook. I may have taught Jacob how to play baseball, but he taught me so much more. All it really takes to improve the life of yourself and others is time and care.