I'll Volunteer by Sara Goff
|Lift the Lid School Fair|
I found my road to success through volunteer work. The story starts with an evening in Manhattan eleven years ago. I was approaching thirty and felt lost in my career in the fashion industry. I sat down on the hard-wood floor of my apartment and prayed until tears streamed my cheeks that God would do something meaningful with my life.
Not long after my prayer, I saw an opportunity at The National Arts Club to help kids to write. I applied right away to volunteer, but didn’t hear back, probably because I didn’t have any writing credits. So I picked up some local magazines—distributed free of charge around Tribeca and SoHo—and pitched a few articles. The SoHo Journal accepted one, and I started writing lifestyle articles for them on a regular basis. My first piece covered a story which pertained to The National Arts Club. Well, the second time I applied to volunteer at the club, my phone rang.
Marta Valle Secondary School in the East Village was my first assignment, an inner-city pubic high school with all the physical and academic bumps and bruises typical of a low-income neighborhood. My goal was to inspire the honors English students in the eleventh grade to write personal essays, and I was full of hope.
|Sara and Pia|
When I first walked into the school, I felt unbalanced, like riding the subway surfer-style. In addition to my fear of speaking in front of a class, I felt out of place. Metal detectors and security officers were not a part of my education growing up. Once I found the classroom, students of different backgrounds turned their caged eyes on me. How would I get them to open up about their lives and to commit their feelings to words? They needed to be confident enough to make themselves vulnerable, and yet I was struggling to keep a steady voice.
By the end of the year, I had a chapbook of 22 entries to distribute to the class, highlighting the work of each and every student. Three students were chosen to read at The National Arts Club’s Creative Writing Festival. After that one workshop, I was asked to monitor a panel of authors for the club’s Student Enrichment Program. Following that, a friend of a friend asked if I’d speak about writing for her class at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn. I even found the courage to volunteer as a writing instructor at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen’s Writing Workshop, sharing personal essays with men and women who had far more life experience than I had. From helping others, I learned to ignore my fears, to put my trust in God and to become a leader.
|Walking Pia in France|
In 2009, my husband’s work moved us to Stockholm, Sweden, and I lost my network of schools, as well as the Soup Kitchen. In our new home, on a dark morning in November when the Scandinavian sun could barely muster an hour of light, I gathered up all my trust in God and started Lift the Lid, Inc., a charity that raises money for schools while encouraging students to write. Now I could continue to volunteer, continue to grow and to be inspired in my own writing.
I believe volunteering has three requirements: time, the willingness to learn from trial and error, and an unwavering trust in God that you are indeed qualified to help others. If you are longing for a sense of purpose or feeling stagnant in your career, my advice is to volunteer. It’s a lot like love, where the more you give, the more you get back. Once you’ve made a difference in someone else’s life, you start to see a change in yourself.
|Jumping jacks in France|
If you feel you need a little “I’ll Volunteer!” counseling, I’d be happy to offer my support, advice, or ideas on how to get started. Do you have a volunteer story to share…or volunteering opportunities to pass on? You might encourage someone to reach out to others. Like the force of wind, there’s no telling how far one act of love might spread.
Read more about Sara’s work volunteering in her recent article, “How to Let God Work in Your Life” on Crosswalk.com: http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/how-do-you-let-god-work-in-your-life.html
Sara would love to hear from you about your experiences volunteering, how God has arranged the least expected opportunities for you, or if you have any questions or need any advice. Drop by for a visit and leave a comment.
SARA GOFF has published in several New York City journals, as well as on Crosswalk.com. Her short story "The Smell of Burnt Vegetables" is published in the July 2011 issue of Christian Fiction Online Magazine. Sara received fellowships to Summer Literary Seminars in Russia and Kenya, and was a writing workshop leader at The National Arts Club. She has spoken on the topic of writing in NYC high schools and at St. Francis College and was a writing instructor for the homeless at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. She founded Lift the Lid, Inc., a charity for Third World schools that encourages creative writing. Sara is a Semi-Finalist in the 2011 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest, and she helped judge the 2011 Global eBook Awards. She is represented by literary agent Wendy Lawton of Books and Such Literary Agency.