Getting Our Hands Dirty

Getting Our Hands Dirty

When I was a freshman in college, I rallied a group of new friends from my dorm to go volunteer one afternoon. It was early in the school year, and I wanted to prove to my hall-mates that community service was a fun, easy, low-impact sort of way to give back and feel good. Minimal commitment, quick pay-off, done-in-a-day – a perfect fit for college students!

The community service day was actually organized by my school, so once each of us signed up we were sent to work on different projects throughout the area. In hindsight, I don’t remember what project I worked on that day. But I do remember what one of my friends did. Assigned to clean up a children’s playground in a rough section of town, my friend was picking up trash when he felt something sharp prick his hand. It was a used hypodermic needle.

When I heard this news, I remember feeling as though my heart had stopped. Suddenly, this was no longer just a day of helping out “someone else’s” community.

It was a day of living in someone else’s reality.

Not to worry: everything worked out ok with my friend. But it’s a story worth telling for a few big reasons.

Often for me (and maybe for you, too?), wanting to help others means doing things that can sometimes feel uncomfortable, messy, scary, or overwhelming. After all, in order to really understand a problem (let alone figure out how to solve it), we have to get our hands dirty. And that can mean pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones and into new, uncharted, and complicated territory.

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Ashley Jablow is a 2nd year MBA student, former nonprofit Fundraiser and Corporate Philanthropy Intern, and a motivated Changemaker.