My first memory of volunteering is of two strong women in my life – my mother and my grandmother. I was four-years-old, and in the rec hall at a local church, and was dressed as a pumpkin at a Halloween party for a social group for local adults with disabilities. My memories of “volunteering” growing up always felt like this: It didn’t feel like giving back. It felt like fun. It felt like connection and laughter and joy.
The community in New Jersey had nothing else like One-On-One, where local adults were invited to leave their homes, come together, and socialize, often around holidays. My mother, a grade-school art teacher, and grandmother, a homemaker with several part-time retail jobs over the years, had seen a need in their community, and came together to fill it. My grandmother secured the space – her local church’s Knights of Columbus – and my mother planned the program. I have no idea how they recruited or raised money for supplies and food, but there were always people: Some new faces and many who consistently came holiday after holiday. My favorite was always the Valentine’s Day party, where everyone dressed in pink and red and gave candy hearts to one another before games and a dance party.
Out of the group came many relationships, platonic and romantic: two marriages and countless hours of joy and connection for so many individuals who did not always feel welcome or comfortable in the traditional social settings for adults of their generation…bowling alleys, bars or nightclubs. As an added bonus, it was a relief for so many caregivers, who simply wanted to give their child, sibling, or uncle a night out. A night out that so many of us take for granted. The group still exists even though my mother has moved away and my grandmother is too frail to participate. It’s something I know they are both proud of.
When I thought about volunteering as an adult, I sought out this kind of program… something social, something fun, where the emphasis is on connecting with others. I’m so grateful to have found the MAGIC program and to know that it’s been providing the space to form these connections for almost 20 years. Some months I love the activities, others I’m not that into. Some months my Friend and I have a great connection and can chat for hours; others we’re both a bit tired and low-energy and the connection can be harder to maintain. It’s like any relationship in that way. But even on my low-energy days, my Friend inspires me. He is open and caring and understanding in a way I have never been, and even when presented with negativity, tries to understand where that person is coming from. He always shakes it off (it might help that he loves to dance).
So, in the spirit of Women’s History Month, with the example my strong female role models have set for me, I will not challenge you to volunteer. I challenge you to connect with someone. I challenge you to get involved. I challenge you to make a new friend. Sign up for Friend 2 Friends MAGIC or Community Programs. Become a Big Sister. Take your cue from strong women in your life, and start creating your own “herstory,” one that centers around creating joy, happiness and connection with others.
– Bryanne Mahoney, MAGIC volunteer