06 Oct Why I Volunteer & So Should You
One of the things I am most proud of in my previous life as a business professional in a corporate environment is that I had the opportunity to volunteer and give back to my community. I even won awards for my commitment to serving others and led huge efforts in rallying hundreds of volunteers to pack foods at our local food bank. In this new phase of my life/career, I am realizing that this is just as important. The only difference now is that I do not have the support and guidance of a major corporation. Yes, it was nice to be able to talk to nonprofits and say, “We have $XXXX in our budget to give back to our communities, and we would like to give it to your organization.”
Prior to leaving my corporate job, I made sure I was involved in the bicycling community in Los Angeles. My first opportunity was mutually beneficial to me and to the organization. I was a volunteer mechanic for the bicycling co-op in North East Los Angeles called The Bike Oven. I brought my own bikes there to work on and when I wasn’t doing that, I tried to help people diagnose and fix their own bikes. It was there that I learned how to work on bikes and acquired my mechanic skills. Within one year, I was able to disassemble my bicycles and put it back together. I can’t say that I’m a skilled mechanic, but it has come in handy when I work on my own bicycles at home. I have since stopped volunteering with the Oven due to prior work commitments at the time, but I did go back recently to take advantage of stand time to swap out my chain ring.
When I knew I was going to make my transition last year in 2013, I made it a point to reach out to the 2 local bicycling organizations I’ve been following in social media, as well as in person: the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC) and Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.). Both organizations responded to my request to become a volunteer. C.I.C.L.E. had monthly rides in which they needed ride leaders every month, whereas LACBC had scheduled events during the year in which they’ll need help in. I immediately gravitated towards C.I.C.L.E. because they allowed me to immediately contribute to my community, and I wholeheartedly agree with their direct approach in getting more people on the road by taking action and showing them the joys of bicycling. I’m not saying one organization is better than the other because we do need organizations and advocates that go out and talk to our politicians and city planners to build the infrastructure. However, I am more aligned with a “take action now” philosophy.
The first ride I volunteered for was the 5th Annual Tour da Arts at the Santa Monica Museum of Arts. It was a big ride with about 200 attendees. Not a bad way to jump into ride marshalling. Ever since then, I’ve ride marshalled about 10 rides. I have also volunteered for LACBC’s partnership with Damian Kevitt’s Finish the Ride campaign, LACBC’s annual LA River Ride, and bike counts for Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV).
Benefits of Volunteering
Why do I volunteer my time for these organizations? You first need to have passion in what you believe in. Because the bicycle has transformed my perception of life in so many ways, I wanted to make sure that it can easily do that for those around me. I believe that riding a bicycle has so many benefits. People are happier. You’re not polluting the environment or using up natural resources. People are healthier. The bicycle is a huge catalyst for change, both on a micro-level and on a macro-level. A major reason and downfall for people who don’t ride is that they don’t feel safe on the streets. The nonprofits above share similar philosophies and are doing things to make it easier for folks to ride a bicycle safely. That is why I give my time to help them achieve their goals, and therefore help me realize my own vision of a society in which I would like to live in.
Another benefit is that I get to ride my bike and talk to like-minded individuals. In my experience, bicyclists are really cool and down-to-earth people. Never have I been accepted into a subculture so openly and can easily call many of the people I’ve met recently as good friends. Building that network of people both in person and online will be important to me as I am evolving in this industry. Of course, your mileage may vary (YMMV).
The bike scene is also very giving. Not only have I benefitted from free advice, I’ve received tons of free swag. At times, this gets a bit cumbersome, as I now own many bicycle related clothing articles in my closet. I’m not complaining, but when you’re trying to minimize your lifestyle, this can be challenging to figure out what to donate or keep. In joining a nonprofit, you do get benefits of obtaining swag that is otherwise not open to the general public. Again, YMMV.
What are you waiting for? Go find your local bicycle related nonprofit to help. See if your city or town has a bicycle coalition you can join. Even look at the state level and see if there’s a bicycling association to be part of. Check the Internet for prominent organizations. You can start at the League of American Bicyclist’s website to see if they feature any organizations in your area. Talk to your friends who bike. They may already be involved and can facilitate an introduction. Look for a bicycle co-op and see if they need help. Talk to your local bike shop and see if they know a good organization in town. The possibilities are endless. There are also national or worldwide organizations that you can support, like the World Bicycle Relief who are empowering villages of people by providing bicycles to help improve their livelihood. For your convenience, here is a list of organizations compiled on Wikipedia.
Do you have a bicycle related organization that you support? Let me know who and why in the comments below. Together we can all make this world a better place, not only for cyclists, but for pedestrians and motorists.