The myth of the Fountain of Youth has been debunked, but I recently took a dip of the Fountain of Young. It left me tired but cheerful in a goofy way. No younger, but with a beneficial attitude adjustment.
The Fountain of Young pops up here and there. You have to look for it. I’ve found it in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, and once travelled to Colorado for a swim. My immersions range from a day to a week.
How do I get these privileged treatments?
I VOLUNTEER. My chosen specialty is the youth program of my religious denomination. I started assisting with middle school programs, then settled into a long, long run of high school activities. My sons moved through these programs, but I didn’t stop when they graduated. Age wise, I am now separated from the participants by two generations. I’m far from being the only senior volunteer, and age distinctions fade when the business of the day is community building and spiritual growth. Not to mention work (like cooking) and play (elbow tag, balloon volleyball).
What do I get out of this?
- I get to see happy teenagers. Many people don’t even know that they exist! I have seen JOY!
- I get to horrify my friends. Six days WITH TEENAGERS? Three nights IN A TENT? You slept ON THE FLOOR? They think I am Wonder Woman.
- I get to meet fun loving adults, mostly chocolate addicts with a sense of humor. We laugh a lot.
What do I actually do?
Mostly I just show up. “The program” is planned by someone else. Volunteers often shake their heads when departing… “But I didn’t do anything!” That’s the point. Sprinkle enough adults among the teenagers and nothing much will happen. The adults are there to dial 911 if necessary, but I’ve never had to. Once in while someone makes a trip to the Emergency Room, but I’ve only done that twice in 15 years. Neither time was very serious.
I do “mom” stuff, like hand out band-aids and listen to minor complaints. I spend as much time helping other adults as safeguarding kids.
I store “organizational memory”. I remember the summer conference when it rained caterpillars. The night we fried the electric system in an old meetinghouse. The origins of our smoking policy. And yes, I remember the bad times – the death of a parent, a near drowning, and other sorrows.
But my experience as a youth volunteer has been overwhelmingly positive. Generally I come home tired and wonder how long I will keep doing this, but the fun and fellowship continue to bring me back. Come join us in the Fountain of Young!