Most Tuesdays you can find me in the middle of a controlled chaos: Tuesday is my first day back at my main job after the weekend (Monday is my second job). I am usually in the middle of trying to catch up with everything that has gone on since I left on Friday, plus all the new stuff of the day. Typically, I’m pretty busy. However, I always leave for about an hour on Tuesday afternoons, no matter how busy it is. I generally stay a little later on Tuesdays so that I can make up the time I was gone. Why?
I spend that time sweeping floors, emptying and cleaning litter boxes, cleaning food bowls, and playing with cats. Not my cats, mind you, but cats waiting to be adopted. Once a week, I volunteer with SNAP (Spay and Neuter Action Project) which is local to my area. Not only do they work with spay/neuter clinics and vets in order to get low-cost spaying/neutering of animals for low income families, but they keep a cattery which holds 50-75 cats (depending on the time of year and adoptions) that are waiting for adoption. They bring these cats out for regular adoption events in the community to give these pets the opportunity to find new homes.
I first came across SNAP a year and a half ago, when I found my cat in a dumpster behind the restaurant I worked at. I couldn’t help myself and rescued her. She was flea-bitten, full of worms and emaciated, but otherwise in good health. She was not altered, however. I knew this surgery wouldn’t be cheap, and so I foolishly put it off. She hadn’t gone into heat yet because she was so young and was undernourished, I was strictly keeping her inside away from other animals, and I was really poor. I investigated and discovered SNAP, and if I went through their program, I could alter my pet for only $5. Unfortunately at the time, legislation was trying to prevent these clinics from continuing on, and the clinics were working round the clock to alter as many animals as possible. As luck would have it, my cat went into heat and I ended up getting her spayed at our regular vet’s office (trust me, when you have a cat in heat, you will do ANYTHING to make it stop. She was miserable, and so was I.) I still saw SNAP around town at different events and ended up talking to some of the members. They told me that they were always looking for donations or foster families. Unfortunately, I was still broke, and living in a small one bedroom apartment was not conducive to fostering animals (especially since I was away from the house a lot). I joined their Facebook page and didn’t think much of it.
One day, I saw that they needed volunteers to care for the cats in the cattery. I emailed the appropriate person and interviewed, and for the last several months have been volunteering every Tuesday cleaning the kitten room (! KITTENS !). Cleaning the room isn’t always a fun job, due to the smell factor. However, playing with the cats and seeing them grow and change and become healthier and more sociable completely outweighs the smell.
I encourage anyone who is trying to save money and still occupy their time to find a charity or organization to devote some time to. Yes, you won’t be getting paid. However, the time that you spend volunteering is time that you aren’t spending money (at least in theory) and are potentially being entertained. Also, volunteering is a great way to make connections with people – some professionals, some not. By getting involved in an arena that you are interested in and making those kinds of connections, you can increase your network dramatically. Finally, and probably most importantly, volunteering and being selfless is one of the best ways to enrich your life and help you build intrinsic value. When you are done volunteering, you usually feel great AND you have helped a cause/organization/individual that otherwise would not receive that help. You are giving back with your time and your effort, which is typically more valuable and goes farther than if you just wrote a check to a charity. Plus, it means that you are able to contribute to without having to spend money.
Bottom line: Volunteering makes me feel rich. No, I can’t deduct the time I spent from my taxes the way that I could with a check to charity, but it makes me feel rich as a person. I’m giving back! (Side note: I do sometimes make monetary contributions to charity. I save all of my pennies every year and donate them to a cause that I am into at the time – the last few years it has been to the local library. That also makes me feel rich, but in a different way – it’s a little less satisfying).
Find a way to get involved. I am passionate about animals and after seeing first-hand what SNAP was able to do for me, I was willing to support it. What are you passionate about? Does world hunger strike your heart? Find a soup kitchen, or organize a program to collect non-perishable goods and send them to areas in need. Been through a traumatic event? Volunteer for a crisis hotline. Women’s rights your hot button? Get involved with a local women’s group and support them (I know one person who did public speaking events for her local women’s group). Volunteer to take an elderly neighbor on their weekly errands. There are a million different ways to get involved where you can make a difference with your actions, not your money. As long as you are doing it for the right reasons, I am sure that you will get the biggest benefit from giving your time…
My cute little stray smiling at me