Atlas Corps Fellows

Atlas Corps Fellows volunteering at Mariam’s Kitchen, Washington DC

It’s 8 degrees Celsius in NYC today. It’s been drizzling all day. After a usual day at work, I packed up and headed uptown to Central Park. Outside of Summer and non-rainy Fall days, the park holds no attraction for me. But today was different. I had signed up to volunteer with The Achilles International. The Achilles International’s mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics in order to promote personal achievement, enhance self-esteem, and lower barriers to living a fulfilling life. Hosted by the NY Road Runners Club, the charity’s running club meets every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning at Central Park. I had signed up to walk-jog a couple of rounds around the park’s reservoir with one of their beneficiaries.

I have to admit that I was a tad bit nervous when I signed up. I’ve always been awkward around people with disabilities; primarily because I’m so unsure of how to interact with them. But after a simple hello to my running partner for the evening, Tom*, we jogged-walked round the reservoir, without exchanging any further words – just a few glances to check on how each of us were doing as we jogged along the picturesque waterbody.

While the evening went by smoothly and I was pleased to have completed yet another volunteering assignment, I began to realise what a wonderful thing volunteering is. Simply because it gives you so much even though when one volunteers, one does so with just the opposite intention i.e. not expecting anything in return.

Over the past year, thanks to , I have volunteered for numerous organisations. I spent an afternoon painting a music room at a public school, have spent an evening conversing with low-income kids to help them improve their English, prepared food at homeless shelter kitchens, composted NYC’s waste, and more. I signed up for projects randomly as I had free time.

Volunteering has helped me get over my loneliness by keeping me occupied. It’s a great way to meet people. It’s a humbling experience. And every volunteering opportunity has left me with a great sense of satisfaction after. It’s also given me great learnings to take back to India (helpful since I myself am in the nonprofit space) – like getting a better understanding of why people volunteer or how nonprofits should structure their volunteering tasks.

This post would abe incomplete if I did not mention that I was recently promoted to lead volunteer for Rescuing Leftover Cuisine – an organization, who through a network of volunteers, saves leftover food at restaurants/cafes from going to the garbage, by collecting the same and delivering it to nearby homeless shelters instead. As lead volunteer, I’m in charge of collecting leftovers from 2 cafes in Greenwich Village and dropping them to the nearby Bowery Mission. It’s such a simple task but gives me a great sense of satisfaction (I save an average of 30 lbs a night!) knowing I’m doing my bit to prevent food wastage (which is at a whopping 30% in this country).

Go out and volunteer. It’s a wonderful feeling. Really. Lend your time and skills without expecting anything in return and you’re sure to come back richer!

*Name changed to protect identity

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