Thoughts On “Getting Involved” (Spoiler Alert: I’m Running a Martahon)

When I started writing this post I went on a rambling tangent about your 20’s being a great, yet uncertain, time in one’s life, and that as a 20-something I need to find meaning and direction blah blah blah, but that’s not what this post is really about. What it’s about is the importance of getting involved in the betterment (yeah that’s actually a word) of your community, of the world, of another person’s life, of something. When i think back on high school and college it seems like everyone was involved in giving back. Whether it was as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, an organization whose mission is solely to help others, or something seemingly small as participating in a Greek-life fundraiser. And yet after, involvement seems to disappeared completely from my circle of peers, except for the occasional office food drive. Granted, in college we have a lot more time to dedicate to volunteering, and opportunities are easy to find on a college campus, but it seems to me that most of stopped caring, re-prioritized might be a nicer way of putting it. The work-gym-dinner-sleep routine so many of us have become slaves to has become more important than anything else.

I want to clarify, this is not a guilt-trip. If you work/study, manage to make it to the gym, occasionally cook for yourself, and have a social life, that’s a lot. Just keeping yourself alive in your 20’s feels exhausting. My family expresses little sympathy when I make statements like this, and I’m still baffled how they manage to do all these things with kids, but it’s hard being put in charge of your own survival after spending 20+ years not in charge of it. So I guess what I’m asking is did that much really change? At what point did we stop caring about recycling, baby animals, and making the world a better place? There are so many ways to make a difference, whether it’s through donating fundraising, mentoring, giving up some time to volunteer, recycling, planting a tree, whatever! Maybe I’m I’m optimistic in thinking we can all cut out a little more time from our schedule to get involved.

I got this idea in my head about a year ago and tried to make a change, give back. I ended up failing kind of miserably. Last fall I started volunteering at my local no-kill animal shelter with great enthusiasm. I went to all the initial trainings and was outrageously excited about spending my evenings with fuzzy creatures. A few evenings after work I would “socialize” with a group of kittens; feeding them, giving them love, mostly just hanging out. But after going a few times I never went back. I felt guilty for months. I just didn’t have the capacity to dedicate 4 hours after work, and I would have to remember to bring a change of clothes with me to work on days I volunteered, and the shelter wasn’t that close to my work or home and, and, and. All the reasons I felt shouldn’t stop me from volunteering, definitely did. I felt like a selfish jerk.

So this past fall, when a mutual friend asked if I would be interested in getting on the junior board for a nonprofit organization, I jumped at the opportunity (though I had no idea what that meant at the time). The organization was Urban Initiatives. Urban Initiatives (UI) is a “work to play” organization that gives Chicago kids K-4 the opportunity to play on an organized soccer league, regardless of skill, and without cost. In addition to this flagship program, UI also has a leadership program for kids in grades 5-8 who serve as team captains to those in the work to play leagues. And they provide a structured recess program for all kids K-8 called “Play With Potential”. I knew early on UI was the perfect organization for me for a whole host of reasons. First and foremost, I had always played sports growing up and considered it a defining aspect of my childhood. Though I wasn’t always the best athlete, I learned invaluable lessons from playing sports. I know it sounds corny, but I was a notoriously wild-child, and sports gave me structure, discipline, and instilled the importance of working hard and leading a healthy life style. On top of this, my mom, a mental health professional, Latina, and advocate for all underserved populations, imparted upon me the importance of giving back since I’ve been given so much in my life. All through college I worked for America Reads, and even served on the executive board for a couple of semesters, and loved it. Working with kids is honestly so rewarding because you can see the impact you’re making right in front of you in the form of an adorable smiling face. Needless to stay, I’ve stuck with UI. So what exactly does that entail? What is a junior board?

When you’re getting back into getting involved, junior boards a great way because you can get involved as little or as much as you want to. Typically, junior boards assist organizations by helping with awareness campaigns, fundraising, event planning and organizing (UI has some reeeeally cool events), and provide an additional pool for volunteers. I started off slow, attending meetings regularly, as well as occasional social events, I bought tickets and attended the annual Soccer Ball (I had a ball! lololol), but now I’ve signed up to volunteer at a number of other volunteer opportunities so I can hang with the kids! Since I incrementally increased my involvement, getting involved this time around seemed a lot more manageable. Plus, I’m just more passionate about this cause. That said, I just signed up to a very significant time commitment to UI. I’m proud to say I’m part of UI’s Chicago Marathon Team running this October. Yup. A whole marathon, in October, that I will be running and for which I’ll be raising money to support UI’s programs.

When I was initially approached with the opportunity, I was extremely hesitant. I’ve never run a marathon. I ran a half marathon last summer, but a full marathon is twice that, 2x, double – the amount of miles still kind of boggles my brain. Secondly, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to raise the base amount, and would experience the animal shelter failure all over again. But running this marathon is not as much about me as it is about this organization and these kids who might not otherwise have the opportunities they do because of UI. That’s reason enough for me. So now what? Well remember how I said this marathon experience isn’t about me? On this blog I’m going to make some of it about me. Over the next six months I’m going to use my blog to track my training, my continued involvement with UI, and use it as a resource for motivation and support. I’m calling the section “Run to Play” – get it? Because, like, UI is a Work to Play organization and I’m raising money for them and running is sometimes fun? I’ll work on my reasoning. Since I don’t take myself that seriously, unless I’m in a really emo mood and feeling melodramatic, you can expect my account of the training process to be very real and a little goofy. The good, the bad, the sweaty, and the struggle. Now here’s where I hit you up for money.

Below I’ve included a link to my CrowdRise page where you can make your donation, right here, right now! I’m asking for 50 cents per mile I’ll be running (that comes out to about $13). Through your donation you’ll not only be supporting UI financially, but you’ll be supporting my self-esteem! 93% of every dollar donated goes directly to UI’s programs. Covering the cost of everything from transport, snacks, equipment, to uniforms. If I haven’t convinced you just yet, stayed tuned, because I will. In the meantime, think about the kinds of organizations your passionate about, and get involved. In addition to my Crowdrise link, I’ve included a link to UI’s page if you need more information, as well as an article about why volunteering is good for you.

Urban Initiatives

Why Volunteer?

Stay Passionate,

Arty the Alien

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