Both my professional and volunteer life has afforded me the opportunity to promote and execute the work of a number of promising nonprofit agencies across Western New York. Of these encounters, my most beloved volunteer experience continues to this day: dancing with my Danceability partner, “B”. At Danceability, volunteers work one-on-one with dancers who may have a disability. This partnership is key to helping the dancer’s build up their confidence as they learn and eventually showcase a dance routine for the May recital.
I’ll never forget going in for my first day. After meeting the teacher, she plopped me down in the back of a tap class with dancers in their early teens. Before even taking off my coat, I was swarmed by every dancer as they greeted me enthusiastically. It was B who gave me a giant hug and told me I was “pretty cool!” The dancers invited me to join their warm-up to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” with pom-poms. I was hooked! Next class, B and I were matched and tasked with learning our routine to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” In the months leading up to the recital, we had weeks of great joy and weeks where distractions and nerves superseded. Step by step, the dancers began to trust their volunteer’s guidance, but more importantly, their own innate capabilities.
The recital went off without a hitch. With the last pose and the roar of the audience, our routine was complete. And yet, the crowd continued to cheer! Looking to my left was B, break-dancing – and quite well – it was she who caused this explosion! As we exited stage right, high-fives were shared by everyone and with rosy cheeks B told me, “I better see you next year!” Little did she know, I was thinking the same thing.
As young professionals, it’s important that we consider this striking fact: in 2015, the Empire State reported that only 19.2% of residents volunteered. This means that New York is second to last among all 50 states. Is this truly how we want to represent our state?
I share my experience with you as a reminder that your time is as much of an investment in our community as the dollar you donate. Our Western New York nonprofits consistently depend on dedicated volunteers who can build relationships with their clients, accomplish behind-the-scenes tasks through social media and fundraising, or those willing to provide guidance and expertise as a dedicated board member.
I urge you: replace the time you would spend hibernating this winter and immerse yourself in a cause that speaks to you. The time you donate will challenge, thrill and like Danceability did for me – “move” you!