I recently asked my best friend, Abbi, to write about her incredible volunteer opportunity with an organization called Freedom Ride. She talks about how to get ALL the volunteer hours and the reasons why a teen should have a plan for volunteering during their middle and high school years.
In the past, I have always been interested in serving my local community. For years, my mom and I would drive past an organization called Freedom Ride, which is a non-profit, therapeutic horseback riding center for individuals who have physical and/or mental ailments. Here’s my story.
We finally dropped off my volunteer paperwork in July of 2011. My first week there was crazy awesome. I got to meet some of the coolest people on the planet, who happen to belong to an avoided percent of the population. I also met incredibly, ridiculously, and unfathomably cool people who happen to be part of the majority of the population. Get this. Contrary to what many may think, kids and adults who have ailments are just as capable to ride a horse as a “normal” person is. One of the students, who shall remain anonymous for HIPAA purposes, was my secret favorite. After suffering physical damage in a car accident at 21 years old, she is bound to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. She is the smartest thing! She can count in different languages, has a wit like nobody’s business, and can turn a horse around a barrel in a snap. Students who come through the gates of Freedom Ride have anything from CP, to Down Syndrome, to things like ADD, or having problems with hand-eye coordination. Or, if they’re like my secret favorite, they’ve been in accidents. But what’s incredible about this organization is their drive to see others succeed.
For this specific volunteer position, I think it helped tremendously that I had prior horse experience. After one of my first interactions with horses at 5 years old, they stole my heart.
Although prior horse experience is not required, I came to Freedom Ride with 6 years of riding experience, and a lot of knowledge about horse and barn care, and safety. But if you don’t have prior experience, don’t worry. They are thorough in demonstrating all the safety rules you need to know to be successful around these majestic animals. Don’t ever let a lack of experience or knowledge keep you from volunteering in that area! At the time, I was also leasing this handsome thing, and continuing to foster my love of horses…
To be honest, I never thought that I would leave this volunteer experience with anything more than the gratification of helping others. While at Freedom Ride, I learned more about patience, compassion, and service to others than I ever thought I would. The idea of serving was always appealing to me – I believe that God has given me a heart for His people, and I’ve really enjoyed demonstrating the love of Christ to those around me. I always wanted to be patient with people, but never truly grasped the concept of how hard that could be. Compassion is an excellent trait to have, and helps to show those around you that you care. Volunteering with this population allowed me to see how much patience and compassion people really need, and how much I needed to grow as an individual. Watching the students progress, even in the littlest of ways, was so exciting! I loved getting to be their cheerleader and helper, even for just their hour-long lesson.
Not only is volunteering great for the heart, but the experience it gives is also useful for some very practical reasons. Here are 4 that come to mind, but remember there are many more benefits:
Take ALL the College Funds: Most scholarships and tuition assistance programs have volunteer requirements. For instance, Bright Futures requires a minimum of 100 volunteer hours. The more volunteer hours you have, the better your applications will look for scholarships.
Knock the Socks off Future Employers: This week, I had a job interview. When I handed my new potential boss a resume, I’m sure that part of what impressed her was my listing of volunteer work at Freedom Ride for 3 consecutive years. Volunteering shows that you have diversity, and aren’t just looking for the money. People want to hire people who will make customers keep coming.
Fill a Need in Your Community: When people think of serving, 2 things may automatically come to mind: going on a mission’s trip out of the country, or beach clean-ups. Don’t get me wrong, I love mission’s trips and beach clean-ups! There is a time and place for them. However, that’s not the only way to serve! There are plenty of people who need help right here, in your neighborhood. Find them!
It Could Help You Find Your Career: I’ve wanted to be an occupational therapist since I was 14, and am now starting my Bachelor’s in anticipation of being accepted into the Master’s program in a couple years. Volunteering at Freedom Ride gave me a taste of occupational therapy (and a few other kinds of therapies) in a real life setting, and helped me to un-romanticize the job description. You never know if you will find your occupation through your volunteer experience! Try things even if you don’t think you’ll like them- it won’t hurt! If you’re interested in learning more about Freedom Ride, you can find them on Facebook by searching “Freedom Ride, Inc.” or on their website. If you live in the Orlando area, check them out. If you don’t, chances are there is a similar organization somewhere near you!
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