By Olga Mikulska, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar

Olga is a Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar participant from Poland. During her stay in Colorado, she wants to make an IMPACT (Interest, Modesty, Positive Energy, Altruism, Commitment, and Tenacity) with her volunteer experience. 

I am Polish. So is my friend Tomek. And yes, we’ve been volunteering in the USA. For many people, it may sound a little bit weird, two Polish people volunteering in a much more developed and affluent country, but don’t be deceived by appearances. In almost every place, there are people who need a helping hand. In every part of the world, there are people who struggle to pay their bills, to buy the most essential products, or people who are left stranded without anybody there to accompany them in their daily life routine.

This exists even in Beaver Creek, the area which is well-known for lavishness, rich visitors, and even richer locals. I’ve been here for some time already, and I’ve done some observations, and I can confirm the irrefutable fact that a lot of people here have money to burn. But “a lot of” doesn’t mean everybody. It would be gross overgeneralization to say that. I think that it’s really important to realize that those who are in dire need of help are usually invisible. This is the case in the Vail Valley area.

I realized this when I was volunteering at the Salvation Army in Avon, Colorado. This is a religious, charitable organization that has a mission to bring salvation to the destitute and hungry. Its main goal is as follows… “the Vail Valley Service Unit of the Salvation Army provides emergency assistance and strives to meet human needs, in an effort to promote self-sufficiency. In fact, that’s so important it’s the mission statement. The Vail Salvation Army’s overall goal is to stabilize living conditions by providing food, shelter and housing, utility assistance, and basic needs for families and individuals who are temporarily unable to provide for themselves.”

Before visiting the Salvation Army premises, I didn’t even realize that there are so many families in the valley that actually need help, for various reasons. I’ve learned that this particular unit of the organization helps approximately 500 families on a monthly basis. It came as a bit of a shock to me because I had a totally different conception of the valley and its inhabitants. It was a very meaningful lesson for me. We shouldn’t take people at face value, make over generalizations, or not attempt to help somebody just because we assume that they don’t need any help.

So, the task we were given here was to do some weeding in the garden. It wasn’t the easiest one, especially owing to the fact that the sun was beating down mercilessly on our heads. Plus, any type of activity at an elevation much higher than sea level, (yep – Colorado is the highest state) may be intensely painful. But, the good news was that I loved the idea of doing something new, in the open air, and for a change. It was a very rewarding experience. We came home exhausted and quite dirty, but we felt a sense of fulfillment. Maybe we weren’t rescuing anybody, and maybe it wasn’t a super important mission without which the world would fall apart, but we were really happy that we could offer our free time and share our positive energy. I think that volunteerism is not only about some grand initiatives. Volunteerism starts with small gestures. Once you’ve learned how to derive pleasure from it, you’ll be bitten by the volunteering bug. 🙂

That’s why we won’t surely make do with this single experience, but we’ll give a hand at some other volunteering activities, here, as well as when we are back in Poland.

Take care and try to be bitten by the volunteering bug!