Throughout high school, and college I was involved in some form of community service. Whether it was serving as a counselor for a youth sports program, helping recent immigrants improve their English reading skills, tutoring teenage mothers in Math to pass the GRE, organizing toy drives around the holidays, or preparing meals for the hungry. The structured environments of HS and college made it easy to find ways to give back, and to get involved. Life outside of that structured environment requires an individual to more actively seek out ways to get involved with the community.

Years after leaving college, I realized I was spending more time attending parties affiliated with various charitable causes, but not actually getting involved, or committing to helping with any specific cause. That needed to change. This past September I decided to launch a birthday campaign to help bring clean water to people who need it through charity: water. I wasn’t running a race, or promising anyone something in return, I simply shared the link to Facebook, and emailed some close friends. I initially put my fundraising goal at $300, unsure if anyone besides myself would donate. I was pleasantly surprised to see the donations come trickling in over the course of my campaign. I’m happy to announce together we raised $1,301 to help bring clean water to a community that needs it.

Setting up my campaign, and learning about volunteering with the organization led me to sign up to be a volunteer for charity: water’s annual Charity Ball. I had no idea what to expect as a volunteer, or what would be expected of me. The day of the event I was shocked to find that there were hundreds of other volunteers, all coming together because they believed in the mission of the organization. I don’t want to sound cliché, but it was incredibly inspiring. The volunteers really help run the event. Volunteers are bartenders, greeters, information guides, coat checkers, servers, bouncers, donation receivers, and Water Walk helpers. It wasn’t until the actual event that I saw how instrumental volunteers were in making the event a success, despite the charity: water team telling us repeatedly during orientation.

For most of the night I was working at the Water Walk, moving full jerry cans of water wherever they were needed, giving me a small taste of what so many have to do every single day to live. I was not going to complain, but I was beginning to garner a better understanding of how lucky I am. Towards the end of the night I was likely looking exhausted, and ready to sit down, when a gentleman in a tuxedo tapped me on the shoulder, and extended his hand to say “thank you for all your help tonight.” That thank you reenergized me, it took me a moment to realize that the man who had stopped me to say thank you was Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water. I then took a minute to congratulate him on such a successful event, asked him to take picture together, and told him about my birthday campaign which was ending the next day. He said he would be happy to donate if I emailed him. Our interaction was probably no more than ninety seconds, but it will be my most lasting memory from that evening. I observed Scott at the end of the night try to find as many volunteers as he could to thank them all individually, to take pictures, and answer questions. It was amazing. On his organization’s big night, in a room filled with VIPs, and big time donors, he made it a point to focus on thanking the people who were helping to run the event. There is a valuable lesson in there for all leaders. Volunteering with charity: water was an incredible experience, and I look forward to getting more involved moving forward.