Sure, I'll Do That: Where Volunteering Has Led Me

Volunteering has been a strong part of my life since I was young.  In high school, I volunteered for a summer as a junior counselor at a YMCA camp.  Granted at age 14 and in hindsight, it sounds more like free labor and a summer babysitter for my parents, but it was also giving back to the camp that I had gotten so much out of while growing up (and of course, caused so much trouble at too—which still leaves me to wonder why they thought it was a good idea for me to be a counselor).   In my senior year of high school, my favorite teacher (Mr. Metropolis!) required us to volunteer 20+ hours in his AP US History course.  In volunteering, he required us to keep a log to account for our volunteering and experiences.  Sure enough, while volunteering at one event (which brought me back to my elementary school), I chanced upon a conversation with a woman from a local under-funded pre-school.  My conversation with her led me to volunteer at the school for much the rest of the school year, doing more than the minimum required time and continuing to volunteer there for several years after.  With all of these volunteering experiences, they laid a foundation for me to get a job as after school daycare counselor at a different YMCA in college.  The lessons and experienced gained in these volunteering gigs lead to a range of opportunities throughout my life from working in residential programs to running a youth leadership program to running a bookclub for kids.  

Audiobooks and Volunteering

In hindsight, I see the pattern happen again and again.  I volunteer to do something and it opens up a range of new opportunities.   Audiobooks are a great example.  For those that don’t know, I’m a bit of an audiobook evangelist.  I will at some point in our interactions, try to sell you on audiobooks.  I’ve listened to thousands of them in my life and thoroughly enjoy a good narrated story.  So back after graduating college, I was just as much an audiobook nut and just saw it as an unexplored field for many.  I wanted to get involved.  So I looked about and found a site dedicated to audiobooks:  Audiobook CafĂ©.  The site is no longer up (and no, I promise it wasn’t me).  In a desire to get involved, I emailed the site’s executive and said, “Hey, I’ll do whatever—can I volunteer for you.”  They took me on as traffic coordinator; basically, I had to try to get traffic directed to the site (and apparently, I didn’t do it enough, so maybe it is my fault).  Eventually, they let me write about audiobooks and reviewing them for the site (and for that, they did pay me).  Though as the site’s finances began to fall through, they helped me secure reviewer gigs at two magazines (and that eventually expanded to three).  Just over a decade from when I started that venture, I have professionally written over 800 audiobook reviews, conducted over a dozen interviews with people in the industry, and written several articles on the subject matter.  My interest went even further and I eventually presented at the National Popular Culture Association’s annual conference (2009) on the subject of audiobooks (and Stephen King).  

Comics and Volunteering

Comics took a similar venture.  As I got involved in reviewing audiobooks, I became curious about reviewing graphic novels and so contacted several sites to write graphic novel reviews for including and  The general editors of these sites were kind and welcoming, took me in and helped me get started, providing support when needed and good editorial feedback where needed.  At the same time, I was in grad school and a peer of mine made me aware of the fact that I could in fact study comics to some degree (Thanks Tad!).  As I finished grad school and continued to review graphic novels, I also started teaching at the college level.  So with the background I had developed through education and volunteering, I offered up the idea of teaching a course on comics.  This was successful enough that I have taught it 4 colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area and regularly teach it at North Shore Community College.

So why all this talk about volunteering?  Well, two weeks ago, I did it again.  Rather about 2 months ago, I did it.  I’ll back up.  As I stepped into my new position at North Shore Community College, I wanted to make contacts and learn more about the different elements of instructional design.  In particular, I’ve been interested in games and education.  This led me eventually to learn about Media Grid:  Immersive Education.  I quickly joined the site and then also saw that a conference in Boston in early June.  Knowing that I couldn’t get the funds for access to the conference, I contacted the organization to ask if I could volunteer and work at the conference in exchange for access.  They agreed and the doors were opened.  The experience opened up a great range of ideas and learning, as well as opened up contacts with a variety of interesting and great people.  As the conference came to a close, the organizers asked if I would like to stay on for future conferences and help out.  It was really kind and pretty cool as they made clear that they appreciated the effort and enthusiasm that I showed.   So all this has me thinking, where will this lead me?

It’s true that I’m not volunteering out of a true sense of charity.  I’m volunteering because I’m interested and want more out of wherever it is that I’m volunteering.  But I’m also not advancing my volunteering as a sign of sainthood (though the audiobook gods may be grateful for my singlehanded efforts to convert at least 20 people I know to regularly use audiobooks).  Rather, I’m reflecting on the ways that volunteering has given me ample opportunity to further explore and profit (initially in an intellectual sense but later in a monetary and reputational sense) from the subject of my attention.

Where has your volunteering led you?

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