Opinion: Break the ice by volunteering

Dylan Webb is a teaching English as a second language major. Contact him at [email protected]

Dylan Webb

This past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I participated in Kent State’s Hillel’s event, “MLK for a Day,” where, as an instructor for Knitting for Those in Need, I helped over 70 college students  learn the ancient art of knitting.

Founded by Diane Baldridge, Knitting for Those in Need is an organization connected by the hobby of knitting for the sake of those who are less fortunate. Items the group has made in the past include thumbless mittens for the handicapped, knitted Knockers, (soft, comfortable knitted prosthetics for breast cancer survivors) and specially designed hats to protect the homeless from the bitter and cold winter winds in the Cleveland-Akron area.

As I guided others along while they began their first loop around the loom, I shared the knowledge I was taught: by teaching another a skill they themselves can teach and continue passing the skill with the warm intention behind it. As a Leo Tolstoy quote says, “Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.”

Now, one fact about me is that I am socially anxious, with a shyness that takes a while for me to come out around people I don’t know or am unsure of. However, when I was invited by Baldridge to teach Knitting for Those in Need’s events — despite my shyness — I was able to quickly warm up in the friendly environment for the good cause. Whether it was teaching elementary school kids doing it for a project or a group of college students who meet every Friday, I was able to confidently teach others how to knit and share the enthusiasm. Regardless, while helping the organization, I realized I was helping myself by breaking through my shell and gaining a lasting social confidence.

Another important element of volunteering is the real-life skills gained by participating in activities. For example, by learning to knit, you can make pieces of clothing for a loved one or parent. Also with knitting, if you have the time to make your own clothes, it can be done to save money on buying designer clothes. “Do it yourself” is in style.

Furthermore, volunteering activates genuine and meaningful social interaction. It’s true for many people: you really never get to know them until you focus working on an activity together. It’s the kind of focus that creates the bonds and, yes, this kind of activity requires such a focus on the here-and-now keeping the phones and the superficiality away. With knitting, your hands are occupied and the nerves are soothed by the repetition of the knitting needles. 

Volunteering is one of the best ways to start out a new semester, not only with a clean slate, but with a positive note as well. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to meet new mentors and friends. Starting on this positive note is especially beneficial after what was either a fall semester that was too wild or too lackluster.

So start joining organizations focused on helping others with a tangible benefit you can see, whether you make the hats that the homeless will use to keep warm or see the look of joy of a hungry man getting fed at a soup kitchen. The reward is spiritually warming, and, especially as the temperature drops and the wind nips, it’s a feeling you’ll never get by simply throwing money at organizations. So warm up this semester by volunteering to help those in need. For only by sharing light do we truly receive it ourselves.

Knitting for Those in Need meets on the fourth floor of the University Library from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Dylan Webb is an opinion columnist at the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].