I was in training to be a volunteer scuba diver at the new aquarium in Denver when the marine biologist barked this instruction. I snickered. Who would even be thinking about leftover squid and garbage disposals? The other volunteers shot me strange looks — no senses of humor in any of them I guess. My training group was in the life sciences kitchen learning the ins and outs of food prep for marine animals, worlds away from my office day job. Who knew there could be serious fallout from putting squid down a garbage disposal? Not me.
Volunteering is a blast. I feed sting rays and moray eels. I wave through the glass at children, pose for pictures, and spend hours scrubbing algae. Okay, the last bit is not so fun. Makes me a Jacques Cousteaudian. Ha ha. Get it? Anyway, I get to be nose to nose with sharks and turtles and all kinds of interesting sea creatures. Hands down it’s the best diving in Colorado. And it’s free. Free is good.
There’s a habit some people have that’s a bad one. It’s that whiny “I can’t afford it” response to everything. You know you’ve heard it. Makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Don’t let this be you.
Just like scuba diving doesn’t have to be an expensive trip to a faraway land, there are cheap ways of doing just about everything. If you’re a teacher and you like travel, organize a trip for your students and lead it. Your trip is paid for! Like to ski or snowboard? Join ski patrol or become an instructor. You get a season pass and discounts on food, gear and clothing. Still doing the pizza when you’re supposed to French fry? Well, nobody wants you to have a bad time. Even if you’re not a good skier/boarder, contact the ski area’s employment office and ask about volunteer activities. They need help hosting events all season long.
It’s not just sports. If you like theater, volunteer to be an usher. You get to see all the shows for free and you can tell people you’re Usher. How cool is that? Put your own spin on the flashlight as you show people to their seats. My niece volunteers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and loves it. Medically trained? Opportunities are everywhere!
Say no to the “I can’t afford it” whine. Think about what you like to do, and I guarantee there’s a way to do it for free somewhere, somehow. All it takes is a little creativity. The perfect opportunity to volunteer and, at the same time, do something you love for free, is waiting for you.
And remember, never put your leftover squid down the disposal. The squid tendrils clog up the disposal or, to quote the marine biologist, “they do a real number on it.” Yuck.
By the way, 1% of all proceeds from the sale of Coin are donated to Project Aware — saving the world’s oceans one dive at a time.
I love hearing from you. What is your volunteer experience?!
Copyright 2014. A version of this column was originally published 2010.