Very often as volunteers we can feel overwhelmed by all the projects and causes that need our attention, it’s easy to get discouraged. This happens with organizations such as Hands On Charlotte, we lose sight of what it is we’re doing and why. With that in mind I decided to start talking with some of the people who make Hands On Charlotte great and ask them why it is they do what they do. I’ve been with HOC for just under two years now and wanted to know others experiences out there doing a little bit of good at a time.
My first stop on this adventure was the University area of North Charlotte to meet a young man named Joshua Gatlin. It’s really easy to like Joshua; he’s a laid back and super friendly guy who works for the Sheriff’s Office. At 22 years old Joshua has been with Hands On Charlotte since last October and he’s made it very clear where his interests in volunteering lie: “I think it’s really important that kids now a days have a positive reinforcement in their lives, that they have someone helping them and encouraging them” he tells me as we order lunch. Joshua volunteers with HomeWork Hounds at Beatties Ford Road Library and helps kids understand the basics of reading and math. He also volunteers at CPCC tutoring adults trying for the GEDs. I could tell he’s passionate about helping others beat the odds “So long as you’re trying then I believe you should get the help you need to better yourself” he stated as we wondered where our waitress went.
However the biggest question that we’re all asked is “Why?” Why is it we donate thousands of hours of our time every year to help absolute strangers? Joshua had a good answer for this one: “You feel better about yourself, you get to know that you’re making a difference and that you matter to someone at least. It’s a great feeling.” I can certainly agree with his sentiments there, volunteering gives us a means to show that we’ve made a small difference in the world and that’s a strong feeling. As a Criminal Justice major it’s obvious Joshua has a strong desire to give back to the world and to help those in need. “I’d like to work at the jail downtown and try to help some of the guys there get their lives together and make something positive, maybe change the direction that got them locked up” he tells me as we wait for the fries I ordered twenty minutes ago. Tutoring kids and adults working on a GED is one thing, but reaching out to criminals? Maybe a lofty goal but not one I see as being outside this young guys reach. He’s certainly got the drive and skills for it as evidenced by his work with Hands On Charlotte already.
One question I get asked a lot about Hands On Charlotte and that I posed to Joshua is who we are and what we’re all about. Joshua smiled as he thought about it before answering “What you have to do first is decide why you’re doing this. If you know the why then you know who you are.” He explained that Hands On Charlotte’s greatest strength came from the diversity of its volunteers, hundreds coming together with no other thing in common than a desire to help. Our reasons for volunteering, don’t matter, what makes Hands On Charlotte great is that we’re all here to do some good. I thought on that for a moment and realized he’s absolutely correct, as a volunteer leader myself I get to know my volunteers as best I can and I can’t attest to any single common denominator other than they showed up to help. I suppose Hands On Charlotte is a reminder that we’re not alone in the struggle to make this world we live in a better place. People from all walks of life are out there giving up what precious free time they have to make it all work. I’m very grateful I had this chat with Joshua, it helped remind me of why we do this, even if the waitress never did get our orders right.
- Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.