Everyone has a different story of what influenced who they are today. Some people can pinpoint something in particular that changed their way of thinking. Others can give a person, place or thing that made an influence in their personality. Like these people, there are a variety of things that have made me who I am today. Volunteering is one aspect of my life that has sculpted me into the person I am and will continue to be.

I grew up where volunteering was something both to be admired and desired. My parents were strong believers in making a difference in the world, no matter how small. I arrived at Eastern with the same morals and ideas. I wanted to change the world but I had no idea how. My freshman year at EIU, I struggled to find where I belonged. Every organization that I tried seemed to not fit as well as I wanted it to. My friends and family constantly told me that I’d find my niche, there is something on campus that is perfect for me. When I walked into the Student Community Service office for the first time, I found one part of EIU that gave me more than I could have asked for.

The first time I volunteered through the Community Service Office alone affected my further experiences. Sure, I had volunteered a bit with friends and for the required service activities but this time it was just me. I received an email about working with horses and children with special needs through a program called P.E.T. I responded yes within ten minutes.

Walking into the volunteer office for the first time was an enthralling experience. I had only been at EIU for a few months and could barely tell someone where buildings were let alone find the office. Prior to my event, I had read the email about ten times. “Our office is located on the third floor of the union.” I mentally prepared myself to go on the journey. Go figure, I got lost. It seems impossible to get lost considering the amount of time I spend in the office now. Once I found the office, I was greeted by an excited team ready to make a difference. As soon as everyone was there, we hopped into a brightly colored van and were on our way.

In the van, I was surrounded with a group of people who simply wanted to make a difference. Each week we worked with children with various special needs. They all had personalities that were like none other. Some were quiet and just enjoyed the ride, others were crazy and loved to talk. I attended for six weeks and was excited each time. One of the things that would keep me happy through my day was that by the end of it I would be at P.E.T. For most of the children, the program was the best part of their week.

Somehow out of this experience I not only met horses and children but also my future roommate. One of the girls who volunteered by my side became a close friend. The following year I moved in with her and another service savvy friend. I could not be happier. Had I not volunteered, my life would not be the same. I would have never made amazing friends or gotten the chance to make a difference.

Following the program, I continued to volunteer for a variety events. I would check the website often to find projects I could help with. Each experience was diverse in the tasks we completed and the memories I received. I continue to serve others and luckily I no longer get lost on my way to the office. Giving to others is an incredible experience that I wish everyone would have the opportunity to participate in.

Volunteering is not only giving to others, it is selfish. What I take away from every experience is something that I can take with me for the rest of my life. I get just as much out of making someone smile as they do smiling.

Rebecca Gordan is an Early Childhood Education major at Eastern Illinois University. She is currently a PLAY Captain at the Student Community Service Office. In her spare time Becca loves to spend time with her friends and catch up on TV shows. 

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Eastern Illinois University's Civic Engagement and Volunteerism office is dedicated to cultivating citizens of character and integrity. We do this by offering EIU students purposeful opportunities and resources to complement the academic experience. By participating in these programs and services, students are challenged to explore their leadership potential through student-centered programming, service and experiential opportunities. Our programs and activities support Eastern’s mission of enhancing the learning, educational growth, and development of students.

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