I’ve made the drive in and out of downtown Atlanta hundreds of times. Every time, without fail, there’s always at least one person on the side of the highway holding a sign that says something along the lines of “Anything helps!” or “God bless you!” And even though I find it ironic that, between me and the person on the highway, I’m not the one that needs the blessing the most, and even though my heartstrings are tugged every time, something has always stopped me from putting my window down and giving even a little bit.
I know I’m not the only one who’s gone through this. A lot of people, especially my age, feel a desire to help but need the extra little push to do it. Others have this preconceived idea in their minds that everyone who begs on the street is lazy, jobless, and content with being where they are. (By the way, if you’re curious about some of these common ideas, here’s a great article that explains and debunks some of them). Personally, I got stuck in the “I’m just a college student, what could I possibly do?” mindset. My Facebook newsfeed is flooded with pictures of my friends on volunteer trips in faraway places that cost thousands of dollars that I don’t have. My own schedule is hectic, I don’t like giving money online unless I know it’s a place I can trust, and sometimes it’s hard to carve out a set time each week to volunteer in a particular place (although if you can, PLEASE do).
If you’re in the same boat as me, the key to helping someone out is to think closer to home and starting small. Don’t worry about going to some exotic place to donate your time when there are dozens, if not hundreds, of places near you that could use your skills. You don’t have to raise hundreds or thousands of dollars to make a meaningful impact. Two dollars in a donation jar might not seem like much, but giving that much on a regular basis can really add up. If your school has an organization that arranges community service opportunities (shoutout to Volunteer Emory!), then by all means, give them a try.
And if you can’t give a fortune or a lot of your time, something as simple as listening to someone’s story can make a huge difference and brighten their day. You might even be surprised at what you take away from these conversations. I’ve met business owners and college professors who have taught me some great life lessons and have given me the support to pursue my dreams in times when I really needed it.
As we go into the new school year, I hope you’ll find ways to give back to your own community, big or small. And I hope you’ll open yourself up to new opportunities to help others, and become a better person in the process.