Future Reflections       Special Issue, Extracurricular Activities      VOLUNTEERING

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Community Service for Fun, Friendship, and Future

by Darian Smith

Darian SmithFrom the Editor: After serving for a year in AmeriCorps, Darian Smith formed the Community Service Division of the National Federation of the Blind. The division encourages blind youth to get involved in service to others through local and national organizations or by starting their own grassroots projects. Darian wrote this article for Future Reflections in the hope that parents and teachers will pass it on to their blind children and students.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. "How can community service be fun?" Community service isn't a trip to the mall or the theme park, and it's not the latest video game. It's volunteering. When you volunteer you are serving your community.

Community service might not scream out fun like the recreational activities I mentioned, but believe me, volunteer activities can get you out to meet new friends, try new things, and even learn something.

Getting started isn't that difficult. Chances are your gateway to service is within easy reach, just waiting for you to take advantage of it. Check out the tips below from the Corporation for National and Community Service, found at <www.nationalservice.gov>.

Tips for Youth Who Want to Volunteer

1. Take the lead! Is there an issue in your community that you would like to see addressed? If you're not sure where to begin, ask a parent, teacher, or community leader to help you to get started. And then see how you can make a difference.

2. Get your friends involved and meet new people, too! Volunteering with old and new friends can be lots of fun, and it's also a great way to boost your confidence.

3. Find your inner hero. Have you dreamed of being a doctor or a firefighter? You can check out opportunities at local hospitals and fire departments to get a glimpse of what community heroes are doing and to make a difference as part of their teams.

4. Ask your school about group opportunities. Sometimes classes will get a chance to serve together, or there might be clubs at school that you could serve with and join. This can be a great way to get to know your classmates better.

5. If you play a sport or take dance classes, or if you are involved in any other activities, talk to your coach or instructor. See if your team or class might be able to do something together. What a fun way to hang out with your friends outside of practice!

6. Talk with your parents, friends, teachers, and other adults about your volunteer activities. Not only will you be encouraging them to serve, you will have the chance to reflect upon how your activities change you and your community.

7. Volunteer with your family. Get your family involved in one of the National Days of Service, such as Make a Difference Day or Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service. Spend a day painting murals or cleaning your neighborhood park. Check out <www.mlkday.gov> for more information.

Volunteering Blind

You may be thinking that because you are blind, many of these ideas won't work for you. Before you get that notion into your head, give volunteering a chance. Mary Church did, and here is a bit of her story.

Mary Church is a leader in the student division of the NFB of California, and she is active in California’s new Community Service Division. Although she leads a very busy life, she makes time to volunteer at a therapeutic horse ranch. Here is a post she sent to the community service blog.

"Compassion is what makes the world a better place. The willingness to give to others makes life a little brighter. Everyone has the capacity to give, even if all one can give at a particular moment is a wave hello or a smile.

"I was born totally blind and was raised in rural California. My parents encouraged my sister and me to volunteer our time ever since we were very young. We were always doing something. Whether it was playing with kittens at an animal rescue shelter or talking to people in a nursing home, I have always been looking for ways to make the world a better place. As a junior in high school, I started volunteering at DreamPower Horsemanship. This is a therapeutic horse ranch in the foothills of Gilroy, California. Programs offered at DreamPower serve a wide range of people with varying abilities. Everyone at DreamPower is respected, and I have only heard good things about DreamPower from the public.

"I decided to volunteer because I wanted to see what the field of therapeutic riding was all about. My blindness hasn't stopped me from doing the same jobs as other volunteers. I clean stalls, show people the goats at events, act as a peer counselor, and do whatever miscellaneous work needs to be done around the barn. Many people first assume that because I am blind, I am taking lessons there. When I tell them that I am actually a volunteer, they act surprised.

"I have had to learn and devise my own alternative techniques for doing things, but for the most part, I have been able to manage. One of the chores that needs to be done, regardless of the time of year or the weather, is stall cleaning. At first, I didn't know how I would be able to clean a stall without being able to see where the mess was. However, I found a way. Everything is usually at the back of the stall, which makes it a lot easier. All I do is get everything into two or three large piles and then scoop it up into a wheelbarrow.

"Another concern that people have is safety around horses. Horses are big animals and can hurt a human without meaning to. This means that a horse handler needs to be aware of safety at all times. One of the key things I've learned is to always know where the horse's body is in relation to mine. This includes feet! To do this, I keep one hand on the horse at all times when I have it tied to a hitching post for grooming. With my hand on the horse, I can push back if it lunges toward me. The horse feels more comfortable when it knows where a person is.

"Another reason for keeping my hand constantly on the horse is that I can feel where it is moving and pick up some of its body language. Horses use body language among other methods to communicate with the herd. A toss of the head can mean unhappiness, while making licking and chewing noises means contentment.

"Serving other people by feeding my passion has changed my life. I remember that when I went to school, I always looked forward to Fridays when I could get off school and head to the barn. There was always an adventure waiting for me. I have been through rough times, but going to DreamPower has always been the highlight of my week. My hope is that all blind people will get a chance to know what it feels like to give back. There is no better feeling in the world than going home knowing that you made someone else's day."

It can be scary to try something new, but the benefits outweigh the risks. Remember that finding an opportunity to do something you enjoy can build your confidence, connect you with new friends, and open your mind to new possibilities. Furthermore, community service experience can aid you in finding a job. Through community service you can learn to problem solve and to work independently or as part of a team. You can put these skills on your résumé and impress your future boss.

Volunteering also can give you a boost when you apply to college. Colleges love to see community service experience on your application. The more diverse it is, the better. Scholarship applications look more impressive when they show community service activities. The National Federation of the Blind offers scholarship opportunities on both the state and national levels. Those community service experiences can be nice feathers in your cap when the folks on the scholarship committees look at your application.

Remember that you have friends and mentors in the National Federation of the Blind to support you along the way, whether you are starting out with gusto or tentatively testing the waters. One resource is the Community Service Division. The Community Service Division is here to support anyone who wants to volunteer, doing anything from working with animals to planting trees to helping build homes. We have a listserv, which you can join by going to <http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/community-service.nfbnet.org>. We also have a Facebook group at <https://www.facebook.com/groups/2057597728770515>. You can follow us on Twitter: @NFBCSDIVISION.

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