Volunteering for the Love of It

This is a story about volunteering written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular stories on my site since February 2015. The purpose of her writing is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I’m hoping her stories will help readers recognize that we all have hopes, dreams, challenges and mountains to climb regardless of our mental health status. If you’d like to read the stories I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the stories she’s shared on this site, check out Tiffany’s Story. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.

I can’t work full-time or even part-time right now because my Schizoaffective disorder, anxiety and other mental health conditions do not allow me to. I get overwhelmed and shut down if things are not in an exact order. Work is usually not in an exact order. I get overwhelmed, don’t get enough sleep and in the past have always quit the job I had. Usually I thought that other workers were plotting against me. That is why my current situation is a perfect reason to volunteer. I volunteer so I can be productive and help people at the same time.

A few of the volunteer jobs I’ve had are college writing tutor, tour guide at the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD), emergency room communications, public relations intern, street team efforts for a well-known music company, television news room volunteer and Vice President for my daughter’s Head Start program. I’d like to share a few of my volunteer experiences with you and explain how those opportunities led me to be the person I am now.

One of my degrees in college was Professional Writing. I took a number of courses in writing, and was referred by the Communications department to be a writing tutor. I was a writing tutor for a couple years. I was honored to be a tutor, and had a great time working with various students. There were many times that I’d have to ask other tutors for help or I’d look in my writing manual. Being a writing tutor gave me the confidence I needed to use writing skills in future jobs.

During college, I was also a volunteer tour guide. I gave tours to prospective students who were looking at UMD. I usually talked the entire time during the tours, and pointed out areas of significance at the University. I surprised myself during the tours because I knew more than I thought I did. I really enjoyed that volunteer job. The volunteer tour guide job helped my confidence as an individual.

I was a busy girl during college. For one of my courses, I had to select from a few volunteer opportunities. I chose to volunteer in the emergency room in Duluth, Minnesota. I would visit with the patients that came into the emergency room, and I led them to where they needed to be. I would often hang out with children. I also noticed a high number of homeless people who would come in for shelter, especially during the chilly winter months. This particular volunteer experience sparked my love for helping people in crisis. Being a volunteer in the emergency room was one of my favorite volunteer experiences during college!

One of my college courses also involved volunteering for a communications job. At the time, I was working for a television station as a News Producer. I also wanted to explore working for a public relations agency, so I volunteered for a well-known public relations firm in town. I worked on various projects they needed help with, and really got to explore what public relations was all about. This particular volunteer job led me to work for a public relations firm in Minneapolis after I graduated from college. I was starting to show severe symptoms of mental health issues, and only stayed at that job for a couple years because of my move to Los Angeles. But working in the public relations industry was very rewarding.

I lived in the Minneapolis area on and off for a couple years. Almost daily, I would go to the local coffee shop that had computers to explore volunteer and job opportunities. I came across a music company called V2 who were looking for street team volunteers. Due to my experience, I started volunteering for V2 shortly after my communications with them. They would send me hundreds of posters to hang and CDs to give out on the street. Some of the musicians I worked for were the White Stripes, Moby and Zap Mamma. I was also in charge of picking the musicians up from the airport if they had events in town. One day I spent the day with Zap Mamma. Do you know who she is? I picked her up from the airport, went to a radio show with her and attended her concert. I LOVED getting the Moby merchandise because he’s always been my favorite musician. During this experience, my mental health was getting worse. I would sit and read books for days, thinking they were speaking to me. I was told to pick up Moby from the airport and to get him to locations he needed to be at. I unfortunately missed meeting Moby because I was doing horribly mentally. I had to cancel this volunteer opportunity because I was so messed up. I still think about this opportunity and regret my decision to cancel. Working as a V2 volunteer ended when I decided to move to a new town. The opportunity was amazing, and I often wish I lived in a bigger city to do something like that again.

My daughter was involved in Head Start during preschool. I volunteered to be Vice President while she was in that program. Once again, I surprised myself with what I could accomplish. I ran several meetings alone because the President was not there. I chose to do this volunteer job because I wanted to reassure myself that I could accomplish volunteer jobs that would lead me to future opportunities.

The most recent volunteer job that I had for a very short time was in the local newsroom in the city I currently live in. As I stated earlier, I was a news producer in my early 20s. I knew how to run most of the newsroom operations, but I was not familiar with many things, including camera operations. I gave up on the newsroom volunteer opportunity because I did not have the confidence I needed to succeed.

Volunteering makes me feel good about myself. I’ve also learned that many people have problems as bad as mine or worse. I am not currently volunteering, so I hope I can find other volunteer opportunities in the near future. I need to find opportunities that fit well with my mental health issues and being a mother of two young children. Volunteer opportunities can be awesome if you can find the right fit for your lifestyle!


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