Since freshmen year, I have been a member of my school’s Key Club. For those of you who are unaware of what Key Club is (many are), here is a brief overview: Key Club is the largest and oldest service club in the nation, and from that club came the Kiwanis family. Under the Kiwanis family umbrella, people of all ages participate in Builders Clubs, K-Kids, CKI, Aktion Clubs, Key Clubs, or Kiwanis Clubs to provide service to others. Started in 1925 in Sacramento, California, Key Club is now present in over 30 countries. Members work together, gain leadership skills, and build character by bettering the community. I, like most new members, joined Key Club because an upperclassmen told me that it was a great opportunity to receive community service hours required for Florida Bright Futures scholarships. The first year I joined, my club wasn’t the strongest club; to be perfectly honest, it was a mess. There were four presidents and three sponsors (teachers who support the club), but not much service was done. My sophomore year, though, the president did a complete overhaul and redesigned the club. That was the year I really started participating in community service events and discovered my love for volunteering. Fast forward to today, my senior year, I’m starting my second year as the President of Key Club.
Now, why does any of this matter? As I mentioned, I started volunteering purely to get a scholarship (Bright Futures), but along the way I learned that every little thing I did made a huge difference in someone else’s life. Never before had I realized my impact on someone that I’ve never met and may never meet. Since 2010, UNICEF’s Eliminate Project is a project that all Kiwanis family members, across the world, participate in with one goal: to help aid the elimination of Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT). This disease kills a baby every nine minutes; the child is infected at birth and plagued with extreme sensitivity to light and touch, and experiences painful convulsions, until it dies shortly after birth. While tetanus is extremely fatal to newborns, especially those in third world countries that lack sterile birthing conditions, the infection is highly preventable. For about $1.80, a mother can receive a vaccination and learn about maternal health care that will protect the mother and all her future newborns from tetanus. Through my participation in Key Club, my club has raised over $700 for the Eliminate Project, providing 388 vaccines for women. However, this number is small compared to the overall effect of the Kiwanis Family. Since UNICEF began their campaign for MNT prevention in 1999, a total of $110,000,000 has been raised with $7,365,671.49 being raised by Kiwanis Families. In the end, all of these numbers mean one thing – MNT has been eliminated from 30 countries. Such projects have helped me realize the impact I can make on another human being’s life. I know that I will probably never meet these women and these children who are being given a chance for happy life, and that is okay. I know in my heart that I’ve made a difference, and once you have that feeling, you never want to let it go. Seeing isn’t always believing; this is something that Donovan has taught me.
As Donovan mentioned in his post, Saving a Life that Didn’t Want to Be Saved, this past year has been difficult because of his fight with depression. Almost every day he tells me that I saved his life, that I am the reason he is alive. Honestly, some days I don’t believe him, and I definitely can’t see it. What could I possibly have done that saved him? I didn’t give him medicine to make the thoughts go away. I didn’t stop the car accident. I couldn’t teach him how to cope. I couldn’t stop him from wanting to hurt himself. On his worst days, all that I knew to do was sit beside him on his bed until he felt better, or wait by my phone for an update text from his mom while he was in the hospital. So really, what did I do? I knew that my “It’s okay” and “It’ll get better” fell on deaf ears most the time, and yet Donovan says that I was one of the people who saved him. He says it so passionately and with such confidence that even though I, personally, can’t see what I did, I believe him.
Between my experience with Key Club and having seen depression first hand, I realized how much goes unseen by the human eye, especially the teenage eye. One in five Americans suffer from mental illness, and while I can’t name five people I know that have mental illness, I clearly know many more than five who do. Illnesses such as depression are difficult to see until something drastic happens, such as suicide. I can vouch for this. My own boyfriend had depression, but he was good at masking it. For weeks or months, it was presented as bouts of tiredness, and it wasn’t until he told me that he was depressed that I was able to differentiate between the times when he was actually tired and the times that he was depressed. And throughout the entire journey, most of his peers never knew. Consecutive days of missed school were written off as laziness, until he walked into school with a tattoo. Then questions started coming and the truth came out. My point is that most of the time it’s impossible to see, with our eyes, the hardships of the people around us, but that doesn’t change the effect of our words and actions. Every snide comment or rude maneuver made makes a difference. I want to make a difference in the world, but I want to make a good difference. Luckily that isn’t hard. Both you and I can raise money to save lives and donate some of our own to many great causes. However, money isn’t the only way to make a difference. That’s what I love about community service- you can pay with your time. Picking up trash on the side of the road can save an animal from consuming toxic waste or material. Volunteering at churches or food banks can keep a family from going hungry, and this is one of the projects that you can see, first hand, the difference that you are making. Donate a book you finished reading or read to children to help improve literacy. There are so many opportunities to make someone’s or even an animal’s or the Earth’s day better. Just smile and hold the door open for the person behind you. Ask the clerk scanning your purchases about their day or their life and tell them to have a nice day. Just remember that your words and actions always make an impact, and why not make it a good one?