Most people have spent time volunteering at some point, whether it’s for a school project, a cause they are passionate about, or any number of reasons. The word “volunteer” is related to the word “voluntary,” which focuses on doing something that you want to do, rather than being forced to do it. Sometimes we volunteer to gain a greater sense of purpose, sometimes we volunteer to further our careers — whatever the reason behind volunteering, it’s a wonderful way to get involved and find a community that can rise up and support each other.
Here at the YWCA, there are many amazing volunteer opportunities. There’s healingSPACE, where volunteers help advocate for victims of sexual violence, or volunteers can get plugged in by working on special events that empower women and girls. One of the longest-running volunteer programs at YWCA Bergen County is Special Needs Swim, which gives volunteers a chance to work one-on-one with young people who are mentally and/or physically challenged.
I work as a lifeguard for the YWCA, but I also get to work with Special Needs Swim and have had an incredible experience as a volunteer. While taking swim lessons at the YW as a pre-teen, I often saw Special Needs Swim participants who were also there to swim. I remember wishing that I could get to know these individuals better. Fast forward many years (let’s not count them!) and I’ve had the chance to get to know many participants in the program.
Something I’ve continually observed is that the young people who come for Special Needs Swim have overcome so much. They are champions.
There are so many challenges in their daily lives, but for these few moments in the pool, they’re free to be themselves and relax. Even in the pool, however, they need a little extra help. Recently, I was swimming with a boy I had never met who isn’t particularly verbal and seemed to have some physical challenges as well. I chattered away to him as I worked on his arm strokes for freestyle swimming. After just a short time, he surprised me by clearly showing the skills we had just worked on and totally exceeding my expectations — with enthusiasm!
What some may see as a disability, I’ve learned to see as unique ability. It’s an unusual sense of humor, a fascination with cars, or maybe an obsession with the movie “Home Alone.” The bond that grows between volunteer and participant is incomparable. It’s so beautiful to see their potential being realized. In addition to great relationships with the kids, getting to know their parents has been such a growing experience. Nowhere else will you meet such beautiful, patient, and genuine people.
There are so many benefits to volunteering, and I’m thankful to be able to play a small part in the volunteer programs at YWCA Bergen County.
Lisa Prins is a photographer and videographer in the NYC area and has spent the last five years shooting events and portraits for individuals and non-profits. In her spare time, she lifeguards, teaches swimming, and volunteers at various non-profit organizations.
April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month and April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week! YWCA Bergen County thanks all of our incredible volunteers for their dedicated service to our organization. Without their support we could not live our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities at YWCA Bergen County!