So when I last left you, I had an epiphany that I should be giving back more (time-wise) but instead of doing it online like I tend to do, I wanted to test it out in Real Life and make better use of my mornings. You know, now that I don’t have a job ;)
But the question was – would it work out in the same way? Simply walking into places and asking if I can help them out for an hour or so? Or would they look at me like a total weirdo and reject me right back into the coffee shop?
Well, I tested it out and learned a TON in the process. Below are the results… (I still can’t believe I actually went through with this, haha…)
Attempt #1: The Community Nonprofit
As I left the coffee shop that morning, completely nervous to the bone, I crossed the street and serendipitously found a nonprofit that’s literally set up to give back to the community – perfect!!
They were closed for the day (womp womp), but I saw people milling about inside so I knocked anyways until one of them opened the door to see what this “character” wanted (or should I say, they “cracked” the door as they were definitely dubious of me!). I then muttered out my first attempt of my spiel:
“Hi! Uhh…… Do you need help with anything? Like, umm… I have a free hour? And I think I want to give back?”
(Total fail of communication, haha…)
“I am not sure exactly what you’re asking? How can I help you?” the gentleman responded, probably regretting he even came to the door 😂
“Yes, sorry. I’d like to volunteer my time and wondering if your organization needs some extra help?” Much better!
“Oh, great. Hold on one moment, let me get you the card of our volunteer coordinator”. Minutes later he comes back with it and tells me to try again the next morning as maybe they will have something for me then.
“I sure will!” I replied, and off I scurried before I made an even bigger fool of myself.
Win for asking (I was so nervous!!) // Fail at helping… for now.
Attempt #2: The Sporting Goods Store
After striking out with my first try, I was determined to go again especially as the entire attempt above literally only lasted 4 minutes from start to finish. I walked down the street until I found a place that was open this time – a sporting goods store – and walked right in as fast as I could before changing my mind (it really is scary asking this!).
“Hello!” I happily greeted the two ladies at the register who were waiting for customers.
“I have a strange question for you.” I led with, hoping to set the tone better this time, haha… “Would you happen to need any extra help at the moment? I’m trying to give back to the community more and I have a free hour on my hands.” #NailedIt
The two ladies were dumbfounded, and turned to each other hoping that the other might have a good answer for me :) Unfortunately they didn’t, and we stood in awkward silence for a bit until one of them recommended I visit the nearby churches instead as they’re always looking for extra help. They admitted they’d never been asked such a question before (and didn’t need any help either), but loved that I was going around asking which gave me an extra bump of courage I needed to continue on.
“Oooh great idea, thank you!” I chimed back with. “And I love your store, btw.”
I realized I had just been in there weeks before buying a pair of sunglasses, and was glad to be offering my services to a place I actually liked! Not that it would stop me from volunteering there even if I didn’t, but it felt like I was on the right path even if I had now failed TWICE in a row, haha…
Another Win for asking / Another Fail at DOING.
Attempt #3: The Church!
Three times a charm, right? I took the ladies’ recommendation to heart, and walked further down the street until I came across a church. I walked in and found the business part of it and gave my more polished spiel again, throwing in a little flair and hoping to finally get a “yes.”
“Let me get this straight…” the kind church lady replied with her beautiful – stunned – eyes. “You have a free hour from your kids, and rather than spend it at a coffee shop reading and relaxing all morning you’d rather spend it with us helping out?”
“That’s exactly what I’d like to do!” I responded with, laughing a bit to myself realizing how different my goals are now from just a few months ago…
“I can think of 3 things we can use your help with” she came back with.
“1) You can help answer our phones (perfect – I used to be a customer service manager!), 2) you can help prepare and move all the food we give out every week to our less fortunate friends (also my speed! I can help while giving my muscles a work out at the same time!), and 3) if you’re willing to hop in your car, we always need help picking up the food that local restaurants donate to us (not a problem at all – I can listen to music while I drive!).”
“Is any of this something you’d be interested in?” she wraps up with, still rather cautiously.
“YES!!! To all three! Let’s do it!” I excitedly shout back, can’t believing it’s working now!
“Great! Let me take down your info and will have a coordinator get back with you to get the ball rolling….”
Another Win for asking, but another Fail yet again at the actual doing… at least for now.
Takeaways So Far…
Okay, so up to this point I’ve come to realize a few things:
1) It’s MUCH harder to do stuff *on the spot* than I originally hoped for. Looks like I’ll have to tone down my expectations a bit and account for some “intro/organization” time, at least for those organizations like churches that have their own systems in place.
2) While time will still tell, I think I was more successful with future volunteering because 2 of the 3 places I stopped by were charity-related where it’s more “normal” to volunteer at. It’s going to be a much bigger challenge if I want to help out at regular stores and such like the sporting goods one, just ‘cuz it’s so out of the ordinary. But I’m not giving up on it yet!
3) You can always guess at what will happen with your projects/ideas, but you really don’t know how the world will respond until you actually put yourself out there. I could never have guessed those 3 things the church needs help with, nor that they’d all be up my alley!
4) It’s MUCH more exciting testing stuff in real life than in your mind :) You can do all the thinking you want, but none of it actually matters until you DO SOMETHING about it. This very much applies to your finances and career too.
5) Lastly, getting your money straight allows you to have such freedoms to experiment in this world! As soon as I came back from testing this, I immediately opened up my notepad app on my phone and furiously took notes. Here’s the first thing I wrote and probably the most impactful:
This is the epitome of what money affords you – TIME. Time to spend time with your loved ones, time to work on your passions, time to work on yourself, or time to do whatever it is your heart is requesting of you in that moment.
This day it happened to be around giving back and experimenting, but other times it’s been all about the leisure or spending time with the fam or even being consumed by puzzles ;) But it’s all a result of getting your MONEY down first!
So all the above occurred during the *first* day of experimenting, and in the days since I have tried a number of more times with somewhat better results. If you’ll allow it, I’d like to highlight two more attempts that have both solidified my hope with this project :)
Attempt #4: Back to the Community Nonprofit!
I wasn’t really feeling it the next morning (the doubt started creeping in) but I pushed myself anyways and as always I was proud of doing so in the end. Again, because half the battle is just showing up!
I went right back to that original organization when they opened the next day per the gentleman’s advice, and was quickly immersed into such a new experience it was like an out of body experience… Below are my notes from it which I’ll just copy/paste here since it expresses it pretty well.
– Went back to [redacted] as previous day’s guy advised, and a gaggle of homeless(?) people were hanging around the front door, as well as a group who stopped by to drop off backpacks of goodies for them.
– Super nervous and eyes watering (worst timing ever – why does it only happen when I’m nervous?!), but mustered up the courage and waited in line in front of a makeshift booth to offer my services.
– Whole place smelled and looked funny, but also filled somehow with so much joy and love too? I immediately felt part of a community. Also had no idea how much they do there! Overheard conversations about taking showers and saw someone getting help with job-related stuff with a volunteer behind a computer. I get the sense they do FULL help all around and not just food or donations – so cool.
– A look of confusion as usual when I said I have an hour to assist, which is weird since its run by volunteers?, but the lady went back to talk with someone and said I could help fit all the incoming backpacks into storage if I’d like. Great!!! My first task!! And my first problem(s) too, haha…
– There was a line of people blocking the hallway waiting to get into the storage, and when we walked in it was completely dark and none of us could find the light switch. Eventually the leader of the group did, who was a homeless volunteer I’d guess*, and then we were ready to stack. Only the said leader started doing it for everyone so I basically just stood there like a big idiot doing nothing waiting for everyone to be done. When the dust settled and everyone was out, I reorganized everything though which I thoroughly enjoyed!, but also knocked some stuff over in the midst of it all so had to re-organize that too, haha… But first mission complete no less!
(*The leader of the group asked if he could have one of the backpacks on his way out, and I told him I wasn’t sure as I’m a new volunteer, but he said he’s taking it anyways and I replied, “go for it dude” as it seemed he needed it!)
– Went back to ask what else I can do now that I beautifully arranged their storage cubby, haha, but that was all they had for me :( Said some days are overwhelming and need all the help they can get, and others not so much.
– Was in and out within 8 minutes- wild!
– I asked what “things” they need more of before I left, like food or clothing or something, and she rattled off a list: clothes, shoes, toiletries, razors, and especially underwear. Of all sizes and sexes. Particularly boxers for the men.
– A homeless(?) guy in the corner chimed in with “except for me! I prefer thongs!” and all of us erupted in laughter. Couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. I kinda feel like he was ;) Also found it ironic as I’m on day #7 of wearing NO underwear right now!! (an experiment for another day)
– I finished up chatting with the volunteers, and on the way out the jovial, round, toothless, thong guy yelled out, “don’t forget my thongs! I like them pink!” and I died laughing again.
– I think this experiment is going to do me a lot of good :)
So I finally DID something!!! YAY!!! It wasn’t at all what I was expecting (not that I was expecting anything in particular?), but it got the ball rolling and I’ve since been back a number of times donating whatever I can find for them.
Which turns out I’m really good at! I’m always finding deals on stuff and running into people with boxes of overflowing things from their overstuffed houses/etc. Now I just funnel it all to one main place there which distributes it to those who can most benefit from it! (And they are fast, sometimes they turn around and give the items out while I’m still standing there!)
But the biggest takeaway of all this is that there are *opportunities* to help allllll around us if we’re brave enough to keep our eyes open for them. Not necessarily by just walking up to places and randomly asking them to help like the dummy I am, haha, but by *noticing* the people around us too who might not be as blessed in life as we are.
I’ll give you one last experience I just had that completely made my day, and reminded me once again that I can do more if I just make more of an effort.
Opportunity #5: “Lizzy”
I met Lizzy (not her real name) 4 days ago on the streets, with no home and nowhere to go. Rounding 60 years old she came up to me asking for a few bucks like many in her position do to keep surviving, and of course I obliged per my rules of “always having to say yes” and “give the biggest bill in your pocket so it stings!”
I happily gave her a $20 and tears immediately started welling up in her eyes. “Gosh” I thought…”This $20 means nothing to me but is everything to her!!”
I then went about my day as normal…
Two days later I ran into her again, and it was just starting to rain/sleet and I had to consciously choose whether to stay put and chat with her or to run to my warm cozy car which I wanted to do SO BAD!!! But something forced me to stay right there and strike up a conversation as if it was something we both needed, but for different reasons.
And then we chatted… and chatted….. and chatted.
We stood there in the rain for a good hour laughing and learning all about each other and it completely made my morning. I learned she had some kids of her own, once owned a nice house and car/etc, and just genuinely seemed like an overall beautiful person. Of course I WANTED to find out what happened to leave her in such a miserable position, but I didn’t pry and chose to listen instead.
The whole time I just stood there and did my best to let it all sink in and really “feel it” instead of blocking it out and moving on with life as many of us tend to do. I stopped thinking of my damn warm car and how wet I was getting and just sucked it up for an hour as this poor lady will be drenched the entire day so who the hell am I to complain?!
My heart went out to her so much. Maybe because it was her, maybe because I was in a time of my life where I could pay attention more, or maybe it was just something else totally unrelated. All I know is that it hit me hard and I felt like we were genuinely going to be friends from that point forward.
I also learned she had just had most of her stuff stolen and had been wearing 3-day old clothes as the remaining items of hers were completely soaked from past days of rain! She was literally down to her only pair of underwear and hasn’t taken a shower in almost a week! SO DIFFERENT THAN THE LIVES WE LIVE!!!
But I think it hit me most when she said she just wanted to brush her hair but the same asshat stole that too, as well as her purse which held all her IDs (annoying enough to replace even when you have a home and money!). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and all I thought was to just give her the biggest hug I could which I did. Twice.
We then parted ways and I made it my mission that day to fill up a bag full of warm goodies specifically for her.
I jumped in my car and went straight to Walmart, Goodwill, and the grocery store and picked up everything I thought she could mostly use like new clothes, underwear, and of course a hairbrush.
And even going through these stores with my new knowledge was completely eye opening to me. There was so much superfluous stuff at these places – particularly at Walmart!! – with half the stuff being worthless on the streets. I love me some fashion, but damn – half the clothes were midriffs or super thin or had a million holes in it! And other amenities we’re so accustomed to having requires electricity which of course does you absolutely no good in their daily lives…
It was like I was in the twilight zone and I actually started feeling a bit nauseous thinking about it all. Eventually I snapped to, and continued on with my plan…
Here’s what I came up with!
[Notice the muted colors of the backpack to easier hide from thieves! She literally has to stash her belongings in bushes around town, ugh…]
[I took the first picture, and then realized I had forgotten a few things so went back to collect some more… The fanny pack I thought was a brilliant idea from my wife so she can keep the most important stuff on her!]
Then the next day I patrolled the streets, found where she was hanging out, and gave her the bag as well as another big hug.
I didn’t stay long enough this time to see how helpful they all were (I also included some snacks, a notebook and pens, and other little goodies) but I could tell she was touched. And so was I.
It was the first time in my life I ever did something like this and it felt amazing. And personal, and direct, and *took effort* rather than just opening up my wallet again! (Which of course is still helpful, but it was nice to have an *arsenal* of ways to help now going forward). She was the best thing to happen to me all week.
Win for paying attention to the opportunity // Win for executing on the opportunity!!!
So yeah, what a whirlwind! All within a week that would have otherwise just been so terribly normal!
And to think this all happened because I took out a pen and paper and just let my brain flow out… That quote was legit:
“When you’re stuck, just sit down with a notepad and start writing… your brain has things it wants to say even if you don’t know what they are.”
Indeed it does…
I hope you found something helpful here, and remember – you can NEVER go wrong taking action on your ideas. You might not get the response you’re looking for, but it’s an automatic Win the second you stop thinking and start *doing*. It might change your life in more ways than you think.
PS: Here’s part I of the story that instigated all this: When you’re stuck, just write…
UPDATE: I’ve now finally found my place in the volunteer world! Check it out. (Scroll down to the middle)