By Robert A. Wilkins, CEO and President, YMCA of the East Bay
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others," said Mohandas K. Gandhi. As he was with so many things, Mahatma Gandhi was right. Volunteering makes a difference, not only in someone else's life, but also in your own.
I should know. My organization - The YMCA of the East Bay - has helped a lot of people find themselves over the years. Without volunteers, we could not exist. Nor could countless other nonprofits.
Last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 64.5 million people volunteered through, or for, an organization at least once. If you are one of those 64.5 million, you can, if you wish, stop reading now. You already made a difference. But if you are one of the 73 percent of the population who didn't volunteer to help a community group, a church, a nonprofit, a school or other organization at least once last year, you need to read on and find yourself.
Annette Miller found herself. She's making a difference. A West Oakland parent of four, Annette is one of the 64.5 million who volunteered more than once. In addition to being a parent leader at McClymonds High School, where she and her children went to high school, she also volunteers to help other parents and kids in West Oakland and participates in workshops developed by a local non-profit, Attitudinal Healing Connection, for the West Oakland Parents Action Network and gives time to Great Oakland Public Schools, another local nonprofit committed to improving student learning and achievement. Annette is one of 300+ volunteers who collectively gave thousands of hours of service to GO Public Schools last year.
Jay Gilson, a CPA and co-owner of Bay Area-based RINA Accountancy, is a volunteer boardmember of the Regional Parks Foundation, which makes the East Bay Regional Park District's parks, trails, programs and services available to the area's underserved population. An avid outdoorsman and cyclist, Jay's motivation for volunteering was simply that he and his family enjoyed weekends walking and riding the trails. He wanted to make sure others could enjoy the same feeling.
We need more people like Annette and Jay to make a difference, to find themselves by losing themselves in the service of others. That's why the Y will honor Annette and Jay and more than two dozen other volunteers at our first ever "YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE" awards ceremony. We're recognizing not only our own Y volunteers, but people like Annette and Jay, who choose to donate some of their free time to other nonprofits in the Bay Area. Why? Because when someone volunteers, we all benefit. Volunteering strengthens our entire community. It really does make a difference. Lose yourself and you'll find yourself making a difference too.
Robert A. Wilkins has been CEO and President of the YMCA of the East Bay since 1997. He is an ordained minister and currently serves as an Associate Minister at Allen Temple Baptist Church and educator in contemporary religion and biblical literature.
The district in which you live (the one that determines your school board representative and city council member - this does not impact school boundaries) could change in the next few months.
It's been three years since the 2010 census and that means it's time to redefine the district boundaries for Oakland's City Council and School Board. The school district boundaries follow the city council boundaries, but schools often get left out of the discussion.
"District lines are literally the building blocks of local government and democracy. How district lines are drawn reflects and shapes how communities are defined, how political power is distributed, and how city services are planned and delivered."
Here's a link to a recent story from Oakland Local on the redistricting process.
While the process is far along, there are things you can still do to be involved. The City has been accepting maps proposed by community members. You can see these maps on the city site in a presentation about the process, and also at Oakland Votes, which is providing opportunities for the public to engage.
You can attend one of the upcoming city meetings to make sure that your voice is heard about redistricting. You can find the city's schedule here, and key upcoming dates are below.