As I prepare to embark on my second trip to New Orleans during spring break to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina, I can't help but wonder what people could do to help out our own community. I have the opportunity to go on amazing trips to other places, like New Orleans, Los Angeles and Staten Island, to participate in disaster relief rebuilding. I have also had the opportunity to do some great volunteer work right here in our community. Though our area has — thankfully — not been devastated by hurricanes like the other places that I have mentioned, we can work together to better our community in several ways. The list of volunteering options is endless. People could always hold shoe drives, toy drives, coat drives or jeans drives to donate to local homeless shelters or other people in need. While this is not necessarily direct service, trust me when I say that the people who receive these generous donations will greatly appreciate the help and consideration, so it counts. I have spent the last few years volunteering as a coach for recreation leagues in my area. Athletics are a great way for children to get active and for young adults to get involved in the community. Kids could always use someone to look up to, and coaches can teach powerful life lessons through sports. I will be the first to say how amazing it feels when you coach a child and you then see them succeed, using what you taught. While coaching softball last year, one of my beginner players was struggling with hitting, so I spent some time working with her, and I have to admit that I was more excited than she was when she got her first hit. Youth recreation sports leagues are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers and coaches to work with their young athletes. There are several homeless shelters, animal shelters, retirement homes and children's homes in our community. At places like these, volunteers simply showing up and putting smiles on people's faces is enough to make a difference. Volunteers could teach classes, walk dogs, or even do arts and crafts with children. The volunteer opportunities just within these sites are infinite. There are practically a million — OK, that might be a slight exaggeration — volunteer opportunities in Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Glyndon. No matter what your interest is, there is something for everyone. I couldn't even fit them all in this column. I understand that volunteering might feel like free labor, or a waste of time, or just helping with something that does not affect you. But volunteers are paid in different ways. They are paid with a smile they see on a homeless man's face after he has received his first real meal in days. They are paid with a "thank you" note from the child of an elderly woman with whom they played a simple game of checkers once a week. The issues that make volunteering necessary are relevant to all of us. Issues like homelessness, neglected children, abandoned animals and forgotten elderly who just need a helping hand to get them on the right track, impact everyone in the community. If people come together and volunteer, we can begin to eliminate these issues that have struck our community. Making a difference is what matters. To find volunteer opportunities in your area, you can visit http://www.marylandvolunteercenters.org or http://www.volunteermaryland.org. I love the quote "Be the change you wish to see in the world" by Mahatma Gandhi probably a little too much, but it's true. If we want to change the world and make it a better place, then there is no better place to start than in our own neighborhood, and there is no better time than now. I once read an amazing article by Rachel Naomi Remen, and in it she said "Serving makes us aware of our own wholeness and its power." Serving our community is one of the best things that anyone can do. Not only do those who serve assist others and make progress, but they also develop individually. The feeling I get while volunteering is just indescribable. I believe there is good out there, so let's be the change and start making a difference in this crazy world.
Amanda Oppenheim is a sophomore at Stevenson University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.