Thoughts on Volunteering / Cooking for the Community

If it isn’t obvious enough, I’m a student at Dartmouth College. There, it wasn’t the most efficient to cook for yourself since students had so much meal swipes and money on their meal plan. In addition, there were many events that students could attend, either out of sincere interest or a hungry stomach. Even if students do decide to cook, many didn’t bring their pots and pans from home. We take for granted the cooking oil and spices and groceries we had at home to experiment with. A walk to the nearest grocery store took awhile and it was known to be expensive. It just wasn’t the best choice. If you do want to cook and just need a few ingredients, you can always do the take out option at our buffet-style dining hall and just collect a bunch of items from the salad bar. As students, we look for the quickest and easiest ways in order to accomodate our busy academic and extra-curricular lives.

In high school, I did a lot of community service. I was even selected by my guidance counselor to receive a scholarship based on my commitment to community service. I was theΒ president of the community service club. But let me tell you a little secret, there were times I would rather lay in my bed than to pull myself out and hop onto the subway for the early volunteer orientation. At first it was fun when I joined. I met new people. I felt inspired. But soon, senioritis and everything else took over. Senior year seemed pointless as my future began to seem more hazy. What college do I go to? What do I want to major in? What do I want to do? Why try so hard when everyone puts further pressure on yourself?

Sometimes, and even now, I wish I were a kid again. During those times, at least you could slip away from harsh realities and live among your imagination. After noticing that the grass in my lawn was getting tall, I believed my friend who told me that Pokemon would appear. During those days, I believed I could jump from buildings to buildings like Cardcaptor Sakura. I could beat bad guys with my magical sceptor like Sailor Moon. I could travel to the Digital World and bring justice like in Digimon. I could go on an adventure and make new friends like in Pokemon. But as you grow older, you slowly have to surrender these fantasies. School becomes more important. Tests determine if you’re placed in the higher-track classes. Sports and music take over as you try to fit the mold of the so-called “well-rounded student.” Even recess ceases to exist for you.

Not exactly sure where I’m going with this. I meant to write about the cooking I did when volunteering at the Upper Valley Haven in the Hixon House for adults. I guess I’m trying to say, you begin to question why you’re doing all the stuff that you’re doing. Do you actually like it? Or were all the students in my high school stuck in a race to get to the best test scores. To do the most activities — no to be the leader in the most activities. To get into the best colleges. Slowly, volunteering felt like that. A mandatory requirement to seem like a compassionate student and to qualify for the honor society chapter in my high school. Why did volunteering lose value to me? It almost became a chore.

In college, I didn’t do any volunteering my fall term because I had a hard time adjusting. Proof by the fact I called 4 times to 3 different people bawling. The last time was the morning of my matriculation. Then I got over my doubts about choosing Dartmouth and just told myself that after the end of this term, I would return home for 6 weeks. Just finish. Just finish.

When I returned in the winter, I was accepted into a group for first-year students who showed that they volunteered at home and want to do that now at college. Honestly, it seemed like no one wanted to be at our weekly dinners. We were awkward and didn’t talk to each other. We had to volunteer for 15 hours per term and some students even had trouble reaching that mark. Again, volunteering became a requirement and I found myself cooking dinner at the Upper Valley Haven on Saturdays.

The straightforward goal of volunteering is to help others. However, the leaders of the group I was in emphasized that volunteering enriches you and other volunteers. You create relationships to understand each other while also providing ideas for improvements. It’s an ongoing process, not just giving but also sharing.

There, I met some people. More like, I was the odd person out since the other volunteers knew each other. It also doesn’t help when you’re obviously the racial minority. So I would quietly chop my vegetables, which I found to be very calming. The rocking motion of the knife and the uniform pieces that were produced. I tried to join the conversation but could always tell that I was out of sync with the pack.

This was where I got a majority of my cooking done at college. This was where I learned that recipes online can turn into delicious meals. I remember the residents being so grateful of the food we cooked for them. I tried to talk to some but I could tell it was awkward between us and they would rather finish up and leave. But there was one man another volunteer was talking to. He was one of those guys you could tell can get along with anyone. Somehow he had that charm that I wanted. To instantly set up a connection and engage in a meaningful conversation rather than a one-sided one where I try to break the silence with awkward questions.

So this is where I finish. This post had a direction but went another way and I tried to reel it back in but now I’m not sure what to write. This winter when I return to campus, I’m excited to be volunteering to teach programming to high school students. I don’t think I would want to do hard-core computer science but the introductory class was interesting. Maybe I should find some volunteering events this summer. I just needed some time to enjoy myself. I guess the blog is one of those things. Helps me to share my thoughts. I truly had a ton of fun during the first day setting this up and writing all those posts. I didn’t mind that I ended up sleeping at 10 AM. Thinking about returning to an organization I once participated in but was not welcome to return to help lead it. Maybe I’ll return and lead a workshop with friends. I’ll see how I feel stepping back into that exclusive territory.

Enjoy the dishes I cooked with the other volunteers at the Upper Valley Haven:

Grilled Chicken, Pineapple, and Vegetable Shish-Kabobs with Corn, Baked Pita, and Mango Salsa

Grilled Chicken, Pineapple, and Vegetable Shish-Kabobs with Corn, Baked Pita, and Mango Salsa

Chicken, Roasted Vegetables, Broccoli, Sweet Potato Casserole, and Peach Cobbler

Chicken, Roasted Vegetables, Broccoli, Sweet Potato Casserole, and Peach Cobbler

Burrito Bar and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Burrito Bar and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Barbecue Chicken Pizza, Mexican Pizza, and Cheese Pizza with Fruits

Barbecue Chicken Pizza, Mexican Pizza, and Cheese Pizza with Fruits

Hawaiian Pizza, Cheese Pizza, Mexican Pizza with Stir-Fried Vegetables and Steamed Broccoli

Hawaiian Pizza, Cheese Pizza, Mexican Pizza with Stir-Fried Vegetables and Steamed Broccoli

(Blog’s lesson as end-phrase…)

Don’t just do things just because they are required. Find your own way to do it — the way you enjoy most. It’s ok to stop and try something new. Why take the spot when someone else who wants to do it can take it? If you stay there, you’re just going to be further from finding what you like to do. Discover yourself.

Note: Above featured image is a photo I took on my phone as I was walking back to my dorm. I chose this picture because I started volunteering in the winter and it’s my favorite one. Winter is my favorite season. You can let your imagination fly when you play with the snow. It’s the one I can have fun trying to layer my clothing to stay warm. It was once -15 degrees Fahrenheit. I swear, my tears froze slightly. I’m melting in this summer heat. And plus, in the winter, you can hide behind long pants and dark clothing. Not a good aspect but it’s my truth.


One thought on “Thoughts on Volunteering / Cooking for the Community

  1. Pingback: Developing True Hobbies | Hunger Is the Best Chef

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