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Whistle while you work: Students should take the initiative to volunteer

When you think of volunteering, usually a common synonym that links to that term is “helping.” And sure enough, we help others by donating our time and efforts to certain organizations and causes, but there’s someone else we help who we don’t really think about at times: ourselves.

I recently had the opportunity to travel with a group of FGCU students to the Animal Refuge Center. When I signed up for the event over the summer, my main thought was that, as a freshman, I wanted to get a head start on fulfilling the 80 service learning hours I needed to graduate; and that I was going to get to cuddle puppies and kittens in the process. And then I got there and learned more about the organization.

The Animal Refuge Center is a no-kill, nonprofit organization that currently houses over 50 dogs and over 400 cats on 26 acres in North Ft. Myers. The shelters there do their best to resemble real-life conditions in homes, and the staff even brings in a professional trainer twice a week to work with the dogs.

As soon as the group arrived and got off the bus, a staff member thanked us for coming out and told us how much he appreciated our help, especially because we were a big group. At this point, I was just thinking that he was being nice and trying to get on our good sides because we were a bunch of college kids that had to get up at 6:00 A.M. on a Saturday to go and work outdoors.

Then we were divided into groups – one for cats and one for dogs, and we were sent to the respective houses, where we all worked on tasks like cleaning furniture, filling food and water bowls and pulling weeds. And, yes, we got to interact and play with the animals.

At the end of the longest four hours in the devil’s heat that is Florida’s weather, we were all sweaty and dirty, but we were all still smiling. The staff member thanked us once again for coming out, and he expressed that the organization really appreciates all volunteers that come out to help. While we were back on the bus heading back to FGCU, it hit me that we were all smiling because, not only did we get to play with animals all day long, but we got to help out and get involved in a service that interested us. And we did it all by ourselves, without the aid of a class.

As many of us may already know by now, FGCU has some classes that offer service learning hours as part of their curriculum. And don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to find an organization and to rack up hours that you need to graduate, but you don’t need to rely on only classes to supply you with opportunities.

Students should take the own initiative and get involved with organizations. When you put yourself out there and find, or even start, a service project that allows you to improve the community and world around you, you’re not only fulfilling a graduation requirement, but you’re discovering more about yourself. New friends with a common interest await you when you take it upon yourself to get involved more, especially in an organization that speaks to you, and by getting yourself out there, you’re showing dedication to yourself, the organizations and even to future employers.

It may come as a shock to some of you, but your peers do notice and recognize what you achieve, especially at a close-knit school like FGCU. If you take the initiative and get involved, it may show other students that they can go out and get involved too; they don’t need a class for permission to volunteer. You could inspire another student to find a project to get involved with and it may just change his or her life.

I am infamous for hanging inspirational quotes around my room, and one of the ones featured on my dorm wall is a famous line by Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in this world.” By taking time out of your day once a week or every couple of weeks to volunteer at an organization that you found yourself, you are already helping to change the world, even if you don’t yet realize it.

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