By Katie Wilkinson
Distinguished Young Woman of Arizona for 2013
How do you celebrate Christmas? With decorations? A tree? Parties? Presents? Yummy desserts? I do all of these and I love Christmas! And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get excited waiting for Santa to arrive each year to see what new things he would bring me.
When I was young, my parents wanted to teach my brother and me what the holiday season truly means, so they gave us the gift of giving and we started our own Christmas traditions of serving others.
My earliest memory of helping those in need happened when I was three years old; my mom took my brother Zach and me to the grocery store to pick out cans of food for hungry children. I remember carefully choosing 20 cans of food that I thought another little girl would enjoy. Each year during the holiday season my family adopts a Salvation Army Red Kettle for a day and spends the day ringing bells with friends to raise funds for the less fortunate during the holiday season. My brother plays his clarinet and I sing. Shoppers always tell us how much they enjoy our carols. It is such a rewarding experience seeing the generosity of those in our community.
My parents wanted to make volunteering fun and meaningful so there were some activities that I had to wait to do until I was old enough. I looked forward to the day that I could join my brother and parents by sorting and bagging toys at The Salvation Army Christmas Angel warehouse in Phoenix. Finally when I was 12, I spent my first evening making wishes come true by filling bags with toys for less fortunate children. It was a night that truly changed my life; I understood exactly the true meaning of Christmas. I left with a smile on my face and a desire to do more. I have continued to volunteer over the years with The Salvation Army, local food banks, and our local Hospice organization. Through these experiences, I’ve realized that I was gaining so much more from the experiences than I was giving. Here are the 5 life lessons that I have learned and believe we all can learn from volunteering.
- It’s not all about you. Often times we get caught up in our own lives and tend to think of our own issues, and do not concern ourselves with the problems around us. There are people around us in desperate need of our light.
- We have so much to be grateful for. When we see first hand the struggles of others and reach out to them, we are able to realize all that we have to be thankful for.
- YOU have the power to help. How many opportunities do we have to truly make a difference in someone’s life? Knowing that you are able to put a smile on a stranger’s face or receive heartfelt thanks is truly rewarding.
- Even just one person can make a difference. Everything is caused by a chain reaction, and just one person can create a movement that may change the world. No matter how small the amount of money or time you may give, every bit counts as it adds up to be part of a bigger mission. And becoming part of the bigger mission is the key to enjoying life in its fullest.
- Volunteering is such a rewarding way to spend your time. When helping others, you feel great about what you have done and how much you have helped those in need. Not only do you get those fuzzy feelings inside, you learn to work with a team, discover the needs of others, meet other people working towards a common goal, and learn a lot about yourself and your community. Volunteering may even put you on a path to your future career.
Multifarious organizations across the world could not function without the help of countless volunteers. One of these amazing organizations is Distinguished Young Women with nearly 20,000 selfless volunteers who give their time, energy, and love to make a difference in the lives of young girls throughout America. My hope is that you will all know how much your time and talents are appreciated and how much you have impacted the lives of so many, including mine, with your gift of giving.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Katie Wilkinson is a college freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California majoring in Sports Medicine and minoring in Communications. Originally from Chandler, Arizona, Katie was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Arizona for 2013. Learn more about Katie here!