Do Good for Others, Do Good for Yourself
By Alesia Shute
So many girls today struggle with issues of self-esteem. They look in the mirror, and all they see are the features they don’t like. Unfortunately, we’re part of a culture that values the outward appearance to such a degree that girls are doing crazy things to make themselves look a certain way. We hear stories of teenagers and young women starving themselves or bingeing and purging so they will stay thin.
It’s not a cure-all for the stress that girls live with, but I really believe one thing that helps girls with their self-esteem is involvement in activities that benefit others. In other words, volunteering.
As a pediatric cancer survivor myself, I understand very well what it means to have self-doubt—what it means to want to fit in and be just like your friends. But sometimes that’s just not possible. Sometimes, an illness can rob you of your hair or your strength. Sometimes, finances prevent you from having the same opportunities, activities or wardrobe as your friends.
Adults may think this is a minor annoyance, but how kids handle these challenges can damage or build their sense of self. Creating an opportunity for teens to look beyond their individual circumstances can often provide a healthy perspective that helps them cope and handle these and other challenges.
One of the activities I do, and love to have local teens join in, is helping out at the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey, which provides a home away from home for families whose kids are very sick or injured and are being treated at a nearby hospital. My husband and I periodically take several teens with us and we make dinner for the folks who stay there. Some of them are parents and siblings; others are sick kids who aren’t hospitalized but who are still receiving hospital treatment.
Some of the teenage volunteers I brought along initially came to fulfill their high school requirements for community service, but then, even when that commitment was completed, they still came back! I try to bring different volunteers each time, but it is difficult to choose because they all want to come! Everybody leaves there with a new sense of how they feel about themselves and about other people.
Helping other people can help you heal. For me, even after I recovered from cancer, I felt a need to help other families whose kids were still battling the disease. I wrote my memoir, Everything’s Okay, to bring a message of hope and inspiration to them, and I continue with that mission by raising funds to gift books to families and donate to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I was treated as a little girl. Even though my body has healed, helping others in similar situations provides healing to my spirit as well.
Teens who volunteer, whether it’s at the Ronald McDonald House or somewhere else, can provide that same sort of healing. The key is finding a volunteer opportunity that is enjoyable and that kids have a passion for or interest in. Being a teenager is just one of those times when they think it’s “all about them.” But volunteering—genuinely putting someone else’s needs above their own—gives these kids a perspective and an appreciation of all that is positive in their lives.
And with that viewpoint, teens are better able to see the good that exists in them, and not just their reflection in the mirror.
Some sources for local and national volunteer opportunities:
Ronald McDonald House: provides rooms for families of pediatric patients during hospital treatment.
The Miracle League: a nationwide baseball program that adapts the game to children with special needs.
Special Olympics: a worldwide sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Volunteer Match: a national nonprofit organization that helps connect volunteers with opportunities.