The Merits of Shredding Paper for a Non-Profit – Lucy Yates

“Humanity in Action seeks to ensure that its programs challenge the thoughts of everyone, including those who challenge society…The power of the reformer is that he or she changes things; the danger of the reformer is self-righteousness. For every ounce of diligence we devote to correcting the inequalities of society and the world, we must devote twice as much energy correcting ourselves.”

Please respond to the challenges presented in this quote, referencing your passions and aspirations. How does this insight inform your motivation to join Humanity in Action?

When I was sixteen, I started volunteering at an after school program for the children of refugees. The program was small, held in a little house with a larger outside play area for the kids and only two women running the show. I would help the kids with their homework, and then toss them onto my back and run around the playground as more tried to catch me. I would leave the after school program tired and sweaty – but happy. I was putting time and physical effort into volunteering and seeing the immediate effects of my work – the more I showed up, the more the kids recognized me and the bigger the hugs I received.

Then, in the summer, I worked at their summer camp program. During this time, church groups flocked to the little house to play with the kids. I would come some days and there would be almost as many volunteers as children – and some of the volunteers were children. My presence wasn’t necessary. They had twenty other adults looking out for them. Why was I there then? To make myself feel better? To make myself feel like I was making a difference? When people asked what I was doing with my summer, it felt pretty great to say “Oh, I’m volunteering with refugee children.” 

But that wasn’t the only reason I was there. I wanted to become involved locally improving the lives of refugees and immigrant communities.

The school in which I volunteered as the front desk administrator

I shifted my focus. It was still very important for these kids to have adults to look after them and help them with their homework, but there were plenty of people on the case. I started volunteering as the front desk administrator at a refugee girls’ school. I buzzed people in, took calls, copied papers, and graded assignments. Then, the following year, I volunteered at a non-profit supporting refugee and immigrant women who had experienced domestic violence and sexual abuse. I sorted donations and shredded paper.

It can feel a lot smaller than playing with kids. But it is just as important. This kind of office work supports refugee and immigrant communities just as playing with kids does. And it teaches me practical skills that I can use when I eventually work for an NGO or non-profit so I can better help these communities flourish in the long run.

I want more than anything to be engaged in local refugee and immigrant communities and this was my introduction; playing with kids. But there is more to be done. It’s possible for people to have a bigger, systemic impact if they’re willing to put in the time. 

I can change things. I can start organizations, form committees, fund raise for causes. I just have to keep pushing myself, to look for opportunities which may not seem immediately fun or gratifying, to learn the skills I need to support those who have enacted change, to enact change myself. So instead of playing with the kids whenever it works for my schedule, I can be the one running the after school program, devoting that time and effort day in and day out. 

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