Posted by: Allyson | September 4, 2008

Volunteer Work

So it’s been a few days since my last substantive post.  Part of that was the three-day weekend, where my partner and I went to New Orleans.  (Yes, we went to New Orleans.  Yes, we knew there was a hurricane coming.  No, we did not get caught in the hurricane.  Yes, we had a fantastic time despite mandatory evacuations and massive traffic).  Plus, things have been busy at work.  And then on Tuesday, I spent 3 hours training as a volunteer for the Lilith Fund.

Lilith Fund is an organization which provides small grants to women who need financial assistance in paying for an abortion.  We can’t really provide much, because we’re so small and need to ration our funding for all the women who need it.  But we also refer them to additional sources of financial help through Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation.  And we help them brainstorm other ways to come up with the money they need.

I got involved with Lilith Fund as a result of this post (also posted at Feminocracy) about my need to get more involved not just in legislation-related activism, but also in activism that would help low-income or geographically isolated women have access to abortions.  A member of the NAF left a comment on the Feminocracy posting, I emailed her, and she put me in touch with the Lilith Fund.  Suddenly, I was involved.  During Tuesday night’s training session, I started taking calls. 

Back in high school, I joined a volunteer organization, Key Club, simply because it would look good on my college applications.  I didn’t enjoy it all that much.  None of the work I did was particularly meaningful.  I didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t get any satisfaction out of my work.  Other Key Club members were finding fulfillment in their  volunteer activities, but I wasn’t satisfied or engaged.  In college, I declined to join Circle K, the college division of Key Club.  That was a pretty self-centered time in my life, and I did very little in the way of volunteering.  I would participate in Kenyon’s community service day each year, but that was about it.  Once again, I wasn’t particularly interested or engaged. 

Even with just one night at Lilith under my belt, I know it’s going to be a radically different experience from any volunteer work I’ve done before.  For once, I feel like I’m contributing and helping.  Lilith is just the organization I needed to fuel the activist component of my feminism.  But working for Lilith is also not going to produce those “fuzzy warm feelings” that my Key Club friends got from picking up litter, raking leaves for the elderly, or helping out at a day care center.  Because even though I just handled a few calls, those were some sad stories I heard (to read the stories that volunteers hear, go to the Lilith Fund Blog).  I talked to one woman whose montly income is about the same as my payment for rent and utilties.  Women who don’t have access to child support, who have been laid off, who don’t have insurance.  And when you’re helping people with those kinds of stories, you realize immediately just how big the problem is.  Not just with abortion.  But with the insurance system, the child support system, the healthcare system, the welfare system.  You realize quickly what a mess the whole country is in, because these women are being failed by so many different judicial and legislative organizations.  And you realize that there is only so much you can do.  I can help these women get abortions, but I can’t help the courts enforce the child support payments they need.

But I’m not saying I’m discouraged.  Maybe I can’t do everything, but even this little bit I am doing helps.  My help means that a woman won’t have to endure a pregnancy that she cannot afford or simply does not want.  And that matters in the long run.  No, it’s not “warm and fuzzy” volunteer work, but clearly, I’m not interested in that kind of work.  Volunteering for Lilith is the exact kind of work I need to be doing; it’s the kind of work I want to be doing.  In fact, it’s the sort of service I need to be doing.  I’m looking forward to my work with the Lilith Fund, and to getting to know my fellow volunteers.

Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like.

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