A volunteering story by: Daniel Erickson
As a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association, I participated in one of their Walk to End Alzheimer’s events. These walks help to generate funds and awareness for their cause, and are held all over the country. My role had two primary objectives – the first was to reach out prior to the event to network and generate donation pledges, and the second was to physically complete the walk itself.
I liked my role a lot, because I really felt that I was making a contribution. Being involved in a worthwhile cause was a very rewarding experience, and it was great to be able to communicate that to my friends and family as I reached out for their support. Throughout this experience I was genuinely moved by the compassion of those I talked to, and it meant a lot to have their encouragement and involvement. Because I was working with a team, we were also all supporting each other and had set a combined goal. I was able to generate enough pledges to make a noticeable impact in helping the group to surpass it.
By the time the event finally arrived, we were all excited to finally get it underway. Because it was held early in the morning in Palm Desert, CA (which was close to two hundred miles away), we drove out the night before to make sure we would be well-rested and ready. As much as I enjoyed raising the pledges before, my favorite part of the whole experience was walking alongside so many other supporters of the Alzheimer’s Association. The experience of seeing so many people, with so much positivity, all walking together to defy such a terrible disease was incredibly uplifting, and gave me a true reality check – it really put things into perspective.
Though I had volunteered many times before and I have since, this time had (and still has) special meaning to me. It was in college, I was nineteen years old, and a classmate had asked me if I’d be willing to participate in the Memory Walk with her and a team she was joining. She was so passionate about the fight against Alzheimer’s, and she was joining herself for the remembrance of a close family member who had been stricken with the disease. I was inspired that even in grief, she had the drive to make a difference. This went a long way in not just getting my commitment to help, but also in building my passion and enthusiasm to contribute in a meaningful way. If I was going to do this, I didn’t want to just go along for the ride. I wanted to make sure that I left a mark on what we had set out to accomplish.
Deep down, the main reason I identified so strongly with what she was doing was that I myself had lost my own grandfather years before. While my loss was to cancer and not Alzheimer’s, the drive to keep fighting for your loved ones really resonated with me. There is nothing worse than watching someone you love slip away to a vicious disease. I knew what she was feeling, and I wanted to show her the same kind of support that I would have wanted from my own friends. My grandpa had not just been like a father to me, he had always been my hero too. In my heart, I felt like I was doing it in his memory as well.
The Aha! moment…
Deciding to participate in the Memory Walk was a learning experience in more ways than one. Growing up, I had been involved in volunteer opportunities through the Honor Society, my church, youth group, and other organizations. This was the first time that I had done something without previous involvement or obligation – I just decided it was a good thing to do. It definitely showed me the value of leaving your comfort zone to pursue something meaningful and worthwhile. I knew nobody outside of the one friend there, yet I felt like I was surrounded and embraced by virtually everyone there. It was as if we were all a part of the same community, and there was a terrific sense of family and togetherness in that.
I also gained a new appreciation for these types of pledge events. I’m not afraid to say that I had previously been a little skeptical. After all, how much help can walking be? Shouldn’t we be building something? Making something? Selling something? How wrong I was! Not only on the surface was it a huge success in terms of raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association’s cause, but it provided so much value beyond that. As I mentioned, this was a sense of community. People need to heal, and these events provide a support system where people can walk side-by-side and hand-in-hand, sharing stories and memories of the people they’ve lost and continue to fight for. While it was physically a walk forward, it was emotionally a look back and a celebration of progress and unity.
To summarize it in three words…
- Healing, Uplifting, Enlightening
Why should you do this
For anyone who is considering volunteering, I cannot stress enough the value of the experience. There is arguably no better way to broaden your horizons, make a difference, and genuinely feel like you’re using your time and energy for something amazing.
For the skeptics, trust that there is something for you. Maybe you’re not interested in hammering nails or picking up trash. Understand that there are so many applications for your gifts, and they could make a huge difference for someone. Also, there’s nothing wrong with having fun while you do it! If you have the chance to volunteer out of town, make a trip out of it! See somewhere new, explore new experiences, meet new people, broaden your horizons and enrich your life!