Long-time volunteer and Kindful Leader Derek S. sat down with us to share his experiences of volunteering, leading, and his mental health journey.
Q: What made you want to volunteer?
A: At first, it was because I knew Justin, the founder of Project Helping. I wanted to help out and do whatever I could to help Project Helping. Little did I know, that I would end up sharing and being open about my struggles with depression. Volunteering and being around other like-minded people made it easy to forget about my mental illness and help others at the same time. And once I started to recognize the dual effect, that is when I wanted to volunteer more.
Q: Where is your favorite place to volunteer and why?
A: I am a Kindful Leader at the Denver Children’s Home. It’s great because I myself love cooking…It is a therapy for me! I have the pleasure of leading anywhere from 5-10 volunteers in the kitchen. We have free rain to make the menu and cook for roughly 40 youth and 10 employees of Denver Children’s Home. We are on a street taco kick right now. The last time, we made street tacos and sides of rice and loaded nachos. And for dessert we had brownies with ice cream and chocolate syrup. That was their favorite part of the meal! It is great because not only do we make them dinner, but we also serve the youth and get to go hang out and eat with them too. It is a really gratifying experience.
Q: What take-aways have you gotten from your volunteer experiences?
A: When you are helping others, volunteering your time and resources, you are also helping and improving your mental wellness. Help others while helping yourself. And volunteering and leading with Project Helping has made me realize that even the smallest gestures and good deeds can and will make someone’s day.
Q: Why do you think it is important to volunteer?
A: It’s great being out there and being around like-minded people who view helping others not as a burden, but as something they want to do. When you’re around people like that, it creates a good community vibe. You can just be yourself and have good conversation with people. With volunteering, you donate your time, but you get a lot more in return from donating your time.
Q: What advice would you give to someone experiencing mental health challenges?
A: I struggled with anxiety and depression; both are tough and both are hard to deal with. I think the big thing with mental illness is to make sure that you’re open and honest with people because without a support system, being able to overcome mental illness is a challenge. So don’t be afraid to reach out to others and be around like-minded people. Come to a Project Helping event and it’ll certainly change your life.
Q: Have Project Helping volunteer events helped to improve your mental wellness?
A: Yeah, 100%. It’s a first-hand experience. You have to come do it to experience it. But it’s a double-edged sword in a good way. On one hand, you’re helping others—whether it’s making food and serving food to kids—while also, without you knowing it until you’re done, you’re also improving your mental wellness. Suddenly you’re happy. You’re interacting with others. You’re not sitting at home on the couch wishing you were doing something.
Huge thank you to Derek for being willing to sit down for an interview! Check out volunteer opportunities at projecthelping.org/volunteer-search/
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