Volunteer NOW!

“Share and give back in the areas most important to you. Take action. Don’t think about it – do it.”  -Donna Karan

A few months ago, I applied to become a Big in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentor program. Call me cocky but I thought I was a shoe in- I’ve had previous volunteer experience, great references and the genuine passion of being there for a cool little kid. A few days after I applied, I found an email in my inbox saying that my application was rejected, with the explanation that the local BBBS chapter had plenty of female volunteers- they were in desperate need for male ones. I went home that night a little sad, coming back to my house full of male roommates. One was on the couch, talking to another about how bored he was. Of course, I grew disappointed. There was a kid out there, looking for a grown-up friend, who needed a grown-up friend, a friend that could have possibly been my roommate. But instead, a potential male mentor lounged around on the couch, complaining of nothing to do.

This afternoon, a friend and I walked around downtown Reno, looking at the modern decay and talking about ways the city could improve. We spoke about people’s desires to do good but the lack of motivation or physical effort on their part. Sometimes I think that one of the biggest issues in the world is apathy. Believe me- I wish I could but I know I can’t solve all the world’s problems (if even though, I think about doing it all the time). There are plenty of worldly concerns that I chose to ignore (the thing that comes to mind right now is veganism/animal rights- but then again, I’m also a big fan of baked chicken). Although, I’m not Superman or Princess Diana, I know that in some little way, I can make a difference in my community with volunteer work. I have eyes that can see clearly and an adoration of literature and storytelling- so I volunteer at the local library. One of my girlfriends has a passion for bicycling and volunteers at a non-profit bike shop, helping those find low-cost bicycles. Another friend just loves being a friend. So she shares her companionship with the elderly in nursing homes who don’t get visitors.

So, my challenge for you, dear readers, is this: go out and volunteer. Google the name of your city and “volunteering” and see what pops up. Explore what options are out there. Join a non-profit arts group. Work with local youth. Don’t want to work with kids? Fine. There are organizations where you can go plant trees or play with shelter animals. You’re too busy? That’s fine, too. Make a donation. Most places will accept a measly dollar for their cause (don’t be stingy now!). Find something that lights the fire inside of you and feed that fire with humanity and compassion. The world won’t automatically turn peaceful but there will be a piece of you left in someone’s heart. And maybe a little something left in yours.

Pretty for a Black Girl

I was at a wine bar downtown a few days ago, reading “Cold Mountain,” waiting for a friend to show up. The place was packed and sitting next to me, were three women. They were tall and attractive twenty-somethings, all wearing similar looking knee-high boots. As I sipped my French calimocho, I eavesdropped on their conversation. They talked about the men they were dating and when that topic ended, they made observations about people in the bar.

“He’s cute,” one of them whispered.
“No, he’s ugly!” Another exclaimed.
“Look at that one’s hair. Her roots are disgusting.”
“Her coat is cute. She’s pretty for a black girl.”

I did a quick sweep of the bar. I was the only woman of color present. They were speaking about me. I pretended to be more interested in my book but their conversation made my insides hurt.

I try hard not to be sensitive about racial issues. I know that I live in a very “white” town and a lot of people who live here are naïve, ignorant and a little curious. A woman at the bus station asked to touch my hair and was surprised to find it soft without any kink (thank you, keratin treatment). Another person asked me if I knew so-and-so, another Black person living in Reno, as if all the people of color living in northern Nevada belonged to some sort of racial club. I’ve heard guys talk about their Black exotic fetishes (and write about them in detail on a local dating site), and I will never forget when I was called a nigger as I walked to the university campus.

I’m sure those women at the bar didn’t know any better. They aren’t used to diversity and who’s to the blame them? Reno’s one thing. Our country’s media is oversaturated with white faces. The news outlets. Entertainment. Try naming ten current Black actors on your fingertips. Name five Hispanic reporters. Or Asian ones. Or Middle Eastern. We based our standards of beauty on a small racial percentage that is actually shrinking. A recent report stated that the “pure Caucasian” population is diminishing as the both the minority and mixed-race populations grows steadily.

When I was living in Brooklyn, I was identified more as a Latina, for my Puerto Rican background (yes, the Hispanic population has plenty of stereotypes, too). In Atlantic City a few weeks ago, I was recognized for my Latin features when a ticket lady asked me to translate in Spanish for an elderly customer. I like and am proud of my mixed background. With the exception of my little sisters, I don’t know anyone else with my genetic make-up. It makes me feel special and unique. Reno doesn’t have the diversity range as larger cities but I feel like it does have the potential. I don’t plan to make it my goal to open up everyone’s eyes with the terms of race and its stereotypes. All I hope is that respect is given- not just to different races but to anyone who is different. I work with mentally ill homeless men. Society labels the mentally ill as “crazy” based on a random case’s terrible actions. Most suffering from depression or a personality disorder are not “crazy,” though. Mental illness is just a flaw in chemistry, not character.

I understand that the world may never change (it probably won’t in my lifetime) but I think it’s important to be somewhat the bigger person in all of this and at least, try. It comes down to this: opening up your eyes and watching the words that come out of your mouth. It’s leaving your judgments behind when you step out your front door. It’s forgetting all those stupid stereotypes, no matter how funny or seemingly true they are. It’s stopping the backhanded compliments. It’s learning about someone else’s life- their heritage, their religion, what makes them tick. It’s taking a step out of your comfort zone and stepping into another’s. It’s standing up against someone’s harsh words and changing a negative view point into a positive one. It can start with something simply, like commenting on the way someone looks. Judge a person not by the color of their skin but by the width of their smile. That’s true beauty to me. Everyone is equally pretty.

Where is Super Andrea?

Last week, I started my new job with the AmeriCorp. I was thrilled to start working at this non-profit, dealing with grant writing and volunteer recruitment. I would recruit the entire city of Reno to volunteer at the shelter; write brilliant proposals and have millions of government aide sweep in; and somehow manage to get every homeless person off the street and tucked away into a warm bed with a cup of hot chocolate. Yes, I would be Super Andrea and I will save the world from all its evil and silly problems (insert triumphant laugh here!). But this is what really happened- I spent the entire week, sitting on the floor doing yoga stretches while watching my company’s sole IT person set up my computer. I got so frustrated that I drowned my sorrows with one too many Old Fashioneds and morphed to the Dreaded Drunken Mess.

This upcoming Saturday, I have a date with this sweetheart of guy I met online. He’s artistic and handsome, covered in tattoos and likes to go on bike rides. I’m already convincing myself that this man is my soul mate. We’re destined to fall in love and live happily ever after Disney-style. In all actuality, he may just be like most guys I’ve online-dated and never call me back after the first initial meeting.

I think that’s where my trouble comes in. I base everything in my life on daydream-esque expectations. I expect myself to make a difference right away at my job and not work hard to do so. I expect me and Mister Date to get along famously. I expect to finish school in two years. I expect to write for “Vanity Fair” by my thirtieth birthday. I expect each day to be wonderful and filled with magic and pixie dust. STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT! These expectations are only letting me down, even if they are sparkling positive. They are only leading to enormous disappointment and limit every opportunity.

So, what can one do about these disheartening judgments about the future? I know I can’t stop the expectations from entering my brain. I can’t exactly remember the exact quote but film director, Danny Boyle, once said something like this: “It’s good when all you have is hope and no expectations.” It’s good to believe that something amazing will happen during my day, whether it’s with my love life or work related. But if nothing happens, THAT’S OKAY, TOO.

I do believe that things happen for a reason. Maybe the reason isn’t clear and straightforward. Maybe I’m just supposed to substitute the expectation for the lesson. Things don’t pan at out the office- maybe I should learn how to be more patient. My future date stands me up- maybe I should focus on hanging out with my friends more often instead of getting deep into a relationship. Super Andrea is in there and she knows that great things will happen to her– she doesn’t need to expect anything.

I hope you, dear reader, are not boggled down with expectations, especially the ones you try not to think about on a minute-by-minute basis. Nothing should hold you back- not even yourself.