09/18/2012 09:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Recommitting to Obama's Call to Service

During the lead up to the 2008 election I was inspired by Barack Obama's call to service for all Americans. I've always been drawn to volunteer work, so his message reignited my passion, if ever so briefly. Like many people who volunteer, I struggle to commit. There are always excuses: I feel under utilized, more pressing matters arise - or simply more fun engagements, my job has to come first, etc. I've had fits and starts at nearly every non-profit I've worked for.

Regardless of what happens in this election, I'm taking this moment to reflect on Obama's words and recommit to his call to service. Here are three short anecdotes from my time as a volunteer that might inspire you to do the same.

VITAL Adult Literacy Program - Bloomington, IN

My first volunteer job was at 18, as a tutor at an Adult Literacy Program at a public library. The first few weeks I was moved around to different students, which made me feel awkward and ineffective. One week I connected with a student, David, and from then on I was his regular tutor. David lived out in the country and worked on his families' farm. He was blonde, well built from fieldwork and had an endearing boyish grin. Though in his late 20s, he had a learning disability that placed him at the 1st grade level.

David enjoyed reading, but struggled with math, and his mundane assignments didn't help. His math workbook would list a number and he would have to draw that amount of hearts, stars or other shapes. Because David's artistic skills were also limited, the program operator had him draw circles. After awhile, I started teaching him to draw hearts and stars as we completed each assignment.

A few weeks later, the program operator gently told me that these impromptu art lessons were distracting from the assignment, and to continue with easy to draw circles. I felt foolish, and did as instructed. The next week she came up to me and told that she was mistaken. David had taken so much pleasure in learning to draw hearts and stars that he actually absorbed the information more readily, and all his tutors were now teaching him that way. As a teacher now, this lesson resonates with me. Sadly, when my schedule changed the next semester I stopped volunteering. I will always regret it, and will always wonder what happened to David.

Qatar Animal Welfare Society - Doha, Qatar

When I moved to Qatar the first thing I did was look for a volunteer opportunity. Given the amount of strays in the country, I was drawn to the local animal shelter. I immediately connected with a cat named Kenny who had a bum paw. Not only was this cat a purr monster, but Kenny was also the nickname of my deceased father. Kenny had been at the shelter for several months when I started and was no longer a tiny kitten. After six months of volunteering, he was still there. I knew it didn't make any sense to adopt him while living abroad, but over winter break back in the States I couldn't stop thinking about him.

When I returned from vacation, his arm had been amputated. It didn't take a week before I brought him home, and proceeded to subject him to humiliating photomontages. When life got busy out went my time at the animal shelter, but perhaps it's time to start again, even at the risk of bringing home another little creature.


Esperanza's Coleridge Adult Art Classes - Chicago, IL

Sometimes pictures tell the story better than words. Here are several photographs from Esperanza Community Services.