My life as a volunteer.
When I first moved to NYC, I was so defeated. I spent all my little money incredibly fast and nobody would hire me. I was crashing with a friend from boarding school until I found a job, but the thing they don’t tell you about moving to a big city with your college degree in tow is some degrees are good for landing a job immediately (even entry level is still a paycheck), some degrees are good for internships while you wait tables to pay the bills, and some degrees are only good for sending you back to school for your masters where hopefully you will also gain some kind of experience in your field. There’s nothing you can do in your field with an anthropology degree or an economics degree unless you have already gained some magically elusive experience in that field already.
I worked my way through college, but I worked retail because the schedule was flexible and it paid a lot (retail management is a really nice paycheck, especially in a lucrative chain). You can’t get a retail management job in NYC unless you have “New York Experience” which I most certainly didn’t have coming up here from South Carolina. I took a job as a cashier in a Bed Bath & Beyond with extremely high turnover because I would be promoted faster and catch some “New York Experience” as a manager. Until I got that experience, I was trying to survive in NYC making $9 an hour at a part-time job. When I did find an apartment, it was an overpriced, newly (but shoddily) renovated building way out in Bushwick where the first floor residents were selling crack all day. I was pretty much living on Top Ramen and lunchmeat, begging for extra shifts at work, and trying to keep it together.
But I had a roof. And I had a job. And I was paying my bills. And I could eat. All around the city you see people every day who don’t have that, so I wanted to put it all back into perspective for my own sense of wholeness and to remind myself that I did have a lot to be thankful for regardless of my struggle. So I went to volunteer at a homeless shelter.
I don’t talk about volunteering a lot, but when I do, I’m never shy about what I feel is the selfish aspect of it. The general feeling toward people who give up their time for strangers is that it’s a selfless act of extremely giving people who want to make the world a better place, and that’s true and warm and fuzzy and all that, but for me (and most of the volunteers I know) you do actually feel better. It’s not just that you are helping another person, because I would hope that everyone feels a little bounce in their step if they made someone else’s day easier, but at a place like a homeless shelter, you’re also thankful that it’s not you who needs the help. I wanted to stop feeling sorry for myself living above a crack house and eating ramen every night, so I went to volunteer with homeless people to help make their lives easier. While I was there, one of the administrators told me I might be interested in a battered women’s shelter organized by a Catholic church that was looking for more volunteers to help some of the women with job interview skills.