Guest Opinion: VOICES

Does one have to sacrifice to be a true volunteer—and if so, how much?

My friend Laura and I bonded over condoms. Together, we helped assemble contraceptive packets at the Walk-In Wednesday volunteer night at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF).

In the SAAF common room with us, there were different groups of people: girls there for their sorority; people putting in court-ordered community-service hours; and so on. We started a few weeks ago, placing two condoms and a packet of lubricant in each paper box.

Laura and I aren't volunteering just so we can sign our name on the check-in sheet and fill our quota; we are there because this matters.

I wanted to volunteer to be a part of a community effort, to attach my idealist self to a bigger goal than getting good grades. SAAF is one of the few organizations in Tucson that is open to volunteers who are younger than 18 years old. Yet I wonder if I'm deluding myself by thinking that we really are contributing. After all, we're simply putting in two hours, once a week, folding and stuffing boxes to be distributed around bars in Tucson. I believe in what SAAF does to provide care services and prevention to the people of Southern Arizona, but Walk-In Wednesday is just a small part of the organization. The volunteers most dedicated to SAAF come to Walk-In Wednesday, but are also active in many other SAAF events.

I don't want to be only a Walk-In Wednesday attendee. I want to be a SAAF devotee.

In my U.S. history class, we discussed the Calvinists and how they believed that the truly faithful had to be willing to suffer for their convictions. Do I share this belief? Somehow, giving seems more valuable when we have to sacrifice for a cause, as though some spiritual entity is aware of our willingness to suffer for something.

As of now, I work Walk-In Wednesday into my schedule if I happen to have the time. Volunteering is not a central ingredient in the dish of my life—it is an additive, an extra.

My mother often says that giving is for the giver. I take this to mean that giving is not only about the resource being offered, but what the act of offering means to the person who is giving.

I don't want to have a quota philosophy about giving—an idea that I can fill a certain amount of time volunteering, and then feel that I've done "enough." Yet I don't want to be like the Calvinists, who equate meaning with suffering. For me, high school will fade into college, and college into career, and I know the external demands on my time will take different forms as my life progresses. However, I will maintain the desire to volunteer as an internal force.

I want to respond to the immediacy of AIDS in Tucson. This month, Laura and I will attend a volunteer orientation so we can become trained to help in more ways than just stuffing contraceptive packets. I will continue responding to my internal drive to participate in something worthwhile.

Nina Foushee, 16, is a student at University High School and a youth apprentice journalist at VOICES: Community Stories Past and Present, Inc. For more information, visit