I didn’t know the meaning of life until I gave myself over to a cause that was so much bigger than me. I can tell you to find the nearest food bank or Red Cross or any nearby organization that is looking for volunteers. I can tell you to give up your time and do service. But none of what I tell you to do will mean anything unless I also tell you the value of being a part of something that isn’t about you.
This past weekend, I attended my third THON. I know that there are other universities with their own philanthropic efforts but at Penn State, we have something called THON (otherwise known as the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon). It’s a yearlong effort to raise money to help find a cure for pediatric cancer. Every year, there is an actual dance marathon that happens one weekend in February. More than 700 people stand for 46 hours while spectators look on, standing and dancing with them. It’s an experience that I can’t effectively put into words. Its equal parts wonderful and fun, and at other times it is sad and painful. But every hour you stand there, dancing and singing along to the music, you are reminded why you are there.
Anyone can attend THON. Anyone can stand, whether it’s for six or twenty or forty hours. The effort you put into standing means so much more when you stand out in the cold and the rain and (sometimes the snow) with your cans, asking for donations. It means so much more when you help fundraise and you spread the word about the cause to your family and friends. Again, THON is something that I have been involved with for three years. I didn’t know much about it my freshman year. I didn’t even think it would impact me as much as it does now.
I went to my first THON without knowing what it truly means to do an act of service. Sure, I had fundraised and done many other things to help raise money in the past, but I didn’t know what it really meant. I didn’t know the extent of how important service is to Seizing My Youth until I actually stood for what I believed in.
I am telling you about my experiences with THON to let you know that there is so much more to volunteering than ‘doing a good deed.’ Volunteering is about helping people. It’s about seeing smiles on people’s faces and making a difference in any way that you can. Many people might disagree with this but I believe that we all have a duty to each other. We separate each other and get so caught up in politics, that we forget that we are all humans and that we all have two hands. Hands can be used for many things but they can always be used to help.
Even if it’s something as ‘tiny’ as helping your elderly neighbors around the house or picking up trash around your community, you can make a difference. If one domino can cause all of the other ones to fall, then you can be the spark that ignites the fire of change. When people see that you care, they are more likely to start caring too.
Movements need actions in order to get started. Don’t ever underestimate just how inspiring your existence is. Don’t underestimate your ability to be a catalyst for change. We are energy and hope and dreams all wrapped up into one body. And we don’t need to be anything more than that to make a difference.
It doesn’t take a special kind of person to volunteer. We are all capable of paying it forward and lending a helping hand in any way that we can. You just have to find the cause you believe in; the one you want to fight for. I know that there will be people who will read this and not think twice about volunteering. And that’s completely fine. I shared my experience simply because I believe that service has given me something. Volunteering doesn’t give you any awards of monetary value, but it does give you strength. It gives you hope. It empowers and inspires you and it puts a smile on your face even when you don’t really feel like you have anything to smile for.
Volunteering teaches you so much about yourself. It taught me many things about myself that I didn’t even know. I’ll share one of those lessons learned with you right now: I am tiny. Compared to the rest of the world and life itself, I am miniscule. Not many people know I exist or even know my name. And the change I hope to make? I might not even get to see it even though I wish for it every day. But you want to know something? The beauty of youth is that we don’t let our smallness keep us from knowing that we are and that we can be something bigger than ourselves.
Because at the end of the day, we are what we do. THON involves a lot of people but it is a reflection of me. What I believe in and what I fight for. Find that something for you. It might take some time or it might not, but once you find the thing you want to commit your time and service to, I promise you that it’ll make your life more beautiful than it already is.