In high school, I dressed up as an elf to volunteer at the Farmpark in order to get required hours for the National Honor Society, which I was in because of good grades or something but mostly for college applications. In college, I did Big Brothers Big Sisters because I like kids and thought it would be fun but mostly for my resume. During my first job, I read to kids at an elementary school because I enjoyed it and it got me out of work once every 2 weeks. During my second job, I signed up for New York Cares Day because I thought it would be a good way to meet people at work since I had just started at the company. A few months ago, I tried to volunteer at the library as a literacy tutor because I’m good at teaching and like it (unfortunately, I soon discovered my new job wouldn’t lend itself to enough free time for the commitment).
All of these volunteering opportunities helped others. I can say that. But I can also say I wasn’t doing them out of the goodness of my heart. To the people who were being helped, it made no difference, but to me, it felt inauthentic.
Yesterday, I sorted donations for Hurricane Sandy victims. I didn’t really enjoy it; it wasn’t fun; it wasn’t taking advantage of my talents. I did it just to do it, and because living in NYC means you can’t escape the solidarity of the community coming together in a crisis.
I don’t feel proud of myself for doing it, but I do feel like a New Yorker.