When volunteering is life-changing

By Published On: August 17th, 2021

Wendie repackages frozen salmon in the Food Share’s Volunteer Action Center.

Volunteering to help people can be very therapeutic. For Wendie, it’s been life-changing.

In 2016, after being rear-ended in her vehicle for the second time in two months, she fell into what she describes as a coma-like state. Though she has little recollection of it, Wendie was left with a completely different personality, similar to that of a small child. She had frequent temper tantrums, threw things at her husband, and went days without eating.

For more than four years, her husband and their three children had to adjust to life with a wife and mother who went from being a caregiver to somebody they had to care for.

“This just broke my family,” Wendie says.

Doctors initially thought she had suffered a mental breakdown, but things changed when a new health care provider determined that Wendie was actually suffering from frontal lobe seizures. When she began taking seizure medication, her erratic behavior stopped and her old personality began to return.

When she re-enters the workforce, Wendie hopes to find work as a volunteer coordinator.

Now, Wendie says, “I’m able to be out in the world again, I’m able to function, and I’m able to volunteer.”

A counselor suggested that Wendy seek out volunteer work to help her with things that used to be second nature, like getting herself ready and being someplace on time. In January, she began working in the Food Share’s Volunteer Action Center, where she spends two mornings per week repacking food and relearning how to be in public and perform basic tasks.

“When you get a job, you have to be responsible for yourself, and that used to come very easily for me and now it’s not,” she says. “I have to work at that every time I come here.”

Being around new people, too, has been a challenge. In her early days as a Food Share volunteer, there were times she had to leave due to anxiety around being in public. Now, she’s learning to deal with the newfound difficulty of being around people and is learning that she’s in a safe environment.

Working in the Volunteer Action Center has also helped Wendie follow directions, engage in repetitive tasks and see them through to completion.

“Doing the same task for three hours can tire me out, so to be able to do that is a great accomplishment for me,” she says. “Each time that I come, it’s getting easier.”

Wendie’s goal is to continue honing her skills before re-entering the job market next year. She previously worked in food service, but her work with Food Share has her considering a career change — as a volunteer coordinator.

“The people who receive the food couldn’t get their food without the staff and volunteers,” she says. “There is always that person behind the scenes that has to bring the volunteers in, and I would love to be able to do that.”

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