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Local volunteer is coming back to giving back

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Jason reflects on his volunteerism journey - the paths he's taken both in thinking and in action since his first experience in giving to the community.
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Jason's Volunteerism Journey

United Way volunteer, Jason Holton, reflects on the path he's taken both in thought and action since his initial experience as a volunteer. 

His story -- of going from a youth pressed into volunteer work to becoming an adult who sought his own way to serve -- is both thoughful and inspiring.

/Jason Holton

By: Jason Holton, Heart of West Michigan United Way volunteer


My return to volunteering has taken longer than I would have liked. That comes off a little like I knew I would come back to it, like there was some timeline that I had witnessed and fallen behind on. That's obviously not true. The important thing is that I came back.

I had done a little work here and there when I was younger -- and by that I mean much younger. I was, at the oldest, 13. My first and most significant experience was a church-organized project and I helped serve a meal at the Mel Trotter mission. When I started the whole experience I did not feel drawn to it, I felt forced.

I bet that seems silly. By volunteering, you’re giving back to the community. You put in the time you have, and the people that need your help receive it -- simple. Someone should be proud to be able to help.

I can remember being assigned to clean up, pushing a broom around the back of the kitchen between racks and racks of canned beans and corn. At the time, I knew the idea of responsibility and I had a very loose grasp of the satisfaction that comes with the completion of a job well done. I would not have been able to tell you as much then, but this was the first time those emotions came together in concert.

I watched other volunteers serve food, while I cleaned. The people they helped seemed, every single one, to be more than grateful to receive it. To me it was just "that Sunday" that I had signed up for to help at my parent’s behest. To the people that received portions of cut turkey and soup, it was a whole lot more.

Seventeen years removed from that Sunday, I can imagine much more clearly what it must have been like. I can gather circumstances in my head for the myriad reasons a person would depend on services provided by places like a mission or shelter. None of them are proud reasons.

Something surprised me then.

Even from my position, only being able to watch as people came through the serving line (my job after all was to clean up after the cooks), I got the sense that the people on the other side, the ones getting the food, appreciated me. They welcomed me, and the ones that noticed me, of which there were many, all said hello or offered some form of greeting. I must have looked so naïve to them, so young and quiet. I nodded and tried to respond to each.

Perhaps then, when I held that broom, I was searching for a reason why. Why was I doing this; why should I do this? Why was this important? Was it? I did not know where to start looking then for the answers to those questions. Only recently have I understood that the answers can come from no other source than me. Only I can make something important, give something weight, make it worth doing.

My name is Jason, and I volunteer as a receptionist at the Heart of West Michigan United Way in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am proud to be able to do that.

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