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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Volunteering to Make Yourself Feel Good

A while ago I wrote an article for Associated Content entitled "The Payoff of Volunteer Work". If I do say so myself, it's good reading. And I don't recommend reading it just to promote myself, but rather to give some perspective to an online exchange I am having on Facebook with another patient. She was saying that when people visited her or helped her out, some were only doing it for their own benefit. I agree, but I don't have a problem with that. I even have a friend, Maddy, who says that asking her for help is actually giving her some pleasure and fulfillment. So she begs me all the time to call on her for assistance, which she has given to me in leaps and bounds. I still feel uncomfortable asking for help, even from her, and from other friends who have been so generous.

But let's face it: aside from figures like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi, we are not totally altruistic. We all reap benefits from doing good, whether it be perceived better place in heaven, a tax deduction, something to put on a work resumé or a college application, satisfaction of community service requirements, opportunity to meet people, easing your own loneliness, or just a good feeling. Even easing a feeling of guilt for some wrong you have committed in the past, is valid reason for helping someone, like the former Ku Klux Klansman who was recently on television saying that he now volunteers to help poor blacks in the South.

I did a lot of volunteer work before ALS. And I won't lie: I reaped a lot of benefit. I did the 12-mile Walk for MS, and the March of Dimes Walk every year. These walks gave me exercise, the chance to see thousands of people, and dozens of free tee-shirts to show for it. I volunteered for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS very often. Through BC/EFA I met a lot of cool friends, two of whom I am still in touch with 15 years later. I also met celebrities volunteering at BC/EFA events, and every once in a while they threw the volunteers free theater tickets. I got to meet people I would never have met otherwise, and I even got invited to private parties through the friends I met. I even volunteered as an usher for off-Broadway shows. Unlike the Broadway shows, which use paid union ushers, many off-Broadway theaters and regional companies use volunteer ushers. It's a great way to see the show for free because once you seat the patrons, you can take a seat and watch the show. I've enjoyed free food, gift bags, volunteer parties, pictures with celebrities, and other freebies by volunteering at events. Sometimes I received the same fancy gift bags and fancy food enjoyed by the rich and famous who had paid several hundred dollars to attend. When I worked the phone bank at the Gay Mens Health Crisis to recruit people for the annual AIDS Walk, a local bakery donated baked goods, soda, and sandwiches every night. Free food is always good.

What do you get from volunteering with an ALS patient? You won't meet celebrities, at least not with me. You'd have to somehow find satisfaction from the fact that you're making someone happy to get out or have a little companionship. You would have to have a lot of patience. Are there better ways to spend your time? Sure! But I don't question anyone's motives, although the lady I was conversing with this morning has a problem with certain motives, and that's her prerogative. The only motive I have a problem with is no motive at all, because that leads to resentment. I don't want anyone saying "What am I doing here?" or "Why do I have to do this?" or "How do I get out of this?". I'd rather be alone than know that anyone is doing anything for me that they really resent. I don't think anyone owes me anything, even though I do get angry sometimes that some people from my past have disappeared, and hurt that others I have felt close to in the past do not feel close enough in return to care about me. Maybe it's hard to find out that my feelings are not returned, but maybe I needed to find out. When the going gets tough you really do find out who your friends are, and sometimes they're not who you think they are. But if we both get something out of our association -- I get help or company, and they get satisfaction -- it's beneficial.
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