Like most high school juniors, my mind was hyper focused on getting into college. I made sure I had a great grade point average, extracurricular activities, and tons of leadership experience- but it wasn’t enough. I knew I needed something extra, I needed a cherry on top! My advisors, teachers, and parents all recommended the same thing: volunteer experience. It is an activity on someone’s resume that truly speaks to their character and value, and I knew I needed to be involved.
To be fair, I did partake in community service projects through Student Council and National Honor Society. On the other hand, it didn’t feel fair to categorize myself as a “volunteer” when I had to complete these service hours for a grade. So I began to look for opportunities in my small town by talking to my peers. My father recommended I volunteer at the local hospital, while my volleyball coach suggested I work at the local victim shelter. I thought both were great opportunities, but there was something special about the soup kitchen. What was it? Keep reading to find out!
Why The Soup Kitchen?
In Student Council, we often had guest speakers come and give us inspirational speeches. One day, a man named Mike Ivers (rest in peace) came to speak with us about the importance of being a community leader and giving back. He was the CEO and President of the Yuma Food Bank, and his passion for the less fortunate was infectious. I still remember when he told us that 44% of children in our community go hungry. Kids that we probably sat next to in class may not know where their next meal comes from, and we had absolutely no idea. After this talk, which involved so many more shocking facts about the homeless, I walked up to him and asked him, “What can I do?” He smiled at me and simply replied, “Meet at the food bank this Saturday at 8AM.”
My First Shift
Of course, I wasn’t the only individual from Student Council that went to the food bank that morning. We were all inspired, and honestly it was relieving to go with a group of people who have also never done this before. We quickly hustled in the back, wore our fashionable hair nets and gloves and got to work. I remembered this strange feeling of anxiety before people started shuffling into the cafeteria. From a young age we are taught that homeless people were mentally ill and dangerous, and I couldn’t help but feel scared. I look back at this moment and feel terrible for ever feeling this way, because what came from this experience was nothing but amazing.
Each person I served food to was so appreciative and kind. They quickly looked at my name tag and said, “Thank you Niki” or “God Bless You”. I can’t remember a time in life when I felt better than I did following this shift. I felt proud for spending my morning serving my community and putting a smile on someone’s face. It can be easy to take the roof over your head, the clothes on your back, and most importantly the food on your plate for granted. To see the happiness a hot meal gave so many people made me so grateful and thankful for what I have.
All in all, my first volunteer experience was an extraordinary experience. I recommend everyone participate in a service experience of some kind regularly. Not only is it good for the community, it is good for your self confidence. I am so grateful to have had the experience to meet Mr. Ivers and give back to my hometown. If I got to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently.
About The Author:
Nikitha Lokareddy is a recent 4.0 graduate of W.P. Carey School of Business and currently works for Markitors, a digital marketing agency. She is also an advisor to Online Social Work Programs and is an avid playlist maker and coffee drinker.