The Serial Volunteer

Looking back, the majority of my most clairvoyant, my most grandiose and my most sincere moments have occurred when I’m flying 30,000 feet in the air. Darting through wispy white clouds, soaring over cerulean blue, and marveling at just how many parking lots we as a species require; also very quickly becomes a time of self-reflection and truth (granted, this is all provided you have a window seat).  On August 7th, 2011 flying home to New York City from the Dominican Republic, my partner had one of these moments. 

“I don’t want to be a serial volunteer,” she said after a particularly long spell spent looking out that magical aperture.  

Unsure of whether she was stating her resolution to never work at a breakfast food production company, I asked what she meant.

“I don’t want to continue jumping from volunteer organization to volunteer organization, never donating more than a few moments of my time,” she said. “How can we truly have a lasting positive impact if we never spend the time getting to know the nuances of an organization and the community that it works with?”

We’d spent the better half of two years volunteering with different organizations, always managing to find something wrong with each—something that would push us to continue our search for the perfect place, the perfect spot, the perfect fit.  At this rate, we were set to continue jumping around the globe merely dipping our toes in the humanitarian aid world.  And, for some people this is fine.  This can actually be an economical way to travel with the added benefit of supporting good organizations.  However our goal from the beginning was to find somewhere that we could help to create lasting and empowering change. 

Remembering this, I realized she was right. If we were serious about helping to create that lasting change, we would need to stop trying to find the perfect organization, because the perfect organization doesn’t exist—they change and evolve the same way people do. The same way our thought process of volunteering was evolving those 30,000 feet above the earth. Maybe if we invested ourselves in one organization and truly took the time to get to know the people of the community we were trying to help; maybe then we would find what we were looking for—impact.  But that wouldn’t happen if we kept jumping around.     

“I don’t want to be a serial volunteer either,” I said. 

And alive with the excitement that comes from life changing realizations, we talked all the way back home of our now imminent return to the Dominican Republic.


Adam Salvitti Gucwa is a seasoned traveler, entrepreneur and student whose volunteer focus centers around education and the Dominican Republic