After your last exam, you received an email from your professor. One word stood out and captured your attention almost immediately - opportunity. Four internships were available at a prestigious marketing firm, and you checked all the boxes. After a few weeks, the verdict was in. Scrolling through the email and reviewing the names, you realized yours wasn’t among them. The feeling of rejection and failure overwhelmed you, until you saw a commercial asking for volunteers. Suddenly, your demeanour changed. You became hopeful and recognized volunteering as a great way to get your name out and give back to the community.
After getting your background check and volunteer documentation together, you visited some online sites and searched for an opportunity that would appeal to your skill set. From here, you took the initiative, contacted a dozen people and finally, one of them reached out with a volunteer opportunity. The position requires you to organize and play games with an older man at an assisted living home. At first, you are excited about the opportunity because it sounds easy and fun. Things change when you discover the older man you will be playing with is non-verbal. The manager at the assisted living home understands your hesitancy and encourages you to try it out and see how it goes.
On your first visit, you’re anxious, nervous and feel out of place. After meeting the manager and introducing yourself, it’s time to meet the older man you will be playing with. Walking through the home with brown brick walls and matching tiled floors, you set the board game up at a wooden table in the cafeteria. The man you are here to meet is seated in a wheelchair across from you. Following brief introductions, you begin to play monopoly.
Your opponent tries communicating with you through erratic head movements and hand gestures, but as you’re not yet experienced working with someone who is non-verbal, you fail to notice. You continue playing until you see the frustration build on his face. Suddenly, it dawns on you that if he isn’t using his voice synthesizer, body language is the only way he can communicate. To fix the situation, you involve him by asking if he’s ready to roll. You make eye contact when you speak and wait to see if he makes any gestures which may indicate he has something to say. After about an hour, he enjoys the game, laughing while taking your monopoly money. When the clock strikes 12, it’s time for lunch. You pack up the board, say goodbye to your new friend, and head home.
You speak to the house manager and mention that while it was challenging, you would like to come back. You can’t explain it, but you know you did something good. Just playing a board game with this man brightened his day and revealed new opportunities you’ve never considered. It has been said by many, like Helen Keller, that “When one door closes, another one opens.”
Whether you’re just beginning your post-secondary studies or about to graduate, you may have the opportunity to volunteer your time. Becoming a volunteer isn’t something you have to do, but there is a lot you can learn from the experience, if you choose to have it. By volunteering and helping others who are less fortunate, you can learn patience and how to interact in unconventional ways. Through the selfless act of volunteering, you can also learn about yourself and what drives you. These experiences, if you’re open to them, can change your perspective and shape the person you become. Volunteering may not be what you’re looking for, but sometimes it may be just what you need.