PPSAT Volunteers in SC, WV and VA share their experiences volunteering with Planned Parenthood and other local reproductive health community organizations
It wasn’t until after the 2016 Presidential election that I finally put actions to words and started working and volunteering in my community. But as cliché as that may sound these days, it was the kick in the pants I needed, and unfortunately, sometimes a kick in the pants is exactly what we need. I think the most daunting part of getting involved and volunteering is knowing where to begin. Luckily for me, the 2017 Women’s March happened, and afterward, I found myself involved with the Charleston Women’s March group, WV FREE, WV Citizens Action Group, E-Council, RiseUp WV, Charleston Main Streets, Planned Parenthood, the Underground Cinema, FestivALL and really, anyone who needed help with anything. I couldn’t say no! I wanted to change the world, and that meant saying yes to everyone, right? Wrong.
By July (six months later), I was burnt out and exhausted. I was stretching myself too thin. And I think that’s the second most daunting part of getting involved: knowing where to limit yourself. I wanted to be a part of it all. Everything mattered. Climate change! Women’s rights! Voting! Education! Animals! Fair elections! Equality for all! It was all important to me, and I wanted to help everyone. But it’s also important to limit yourself.
What I discovered was the obvious: do one thing and do it well. I had to choose my cause. I had dipped my toe into everything, but I wasn’t committing myself to anything. So I decided on two causes about which I felt truly passionate: community and women’s rights and equality.
Since deciding on my causes, I’ve remained largely involved in my community by volunteering with Charleston Main Streets, which holds events around Charleston throughout the year, and also with the Underground Cinema, a microcinema downtown established by the West Virginia International Film Festival (although that has since turned into a paid gig). I genuinely love meeting new people and having conversations with strangers. When I volunteer at these events, I meet folks from all over Charleston. We’re a small city, but these events expand the bubble and introduce me to new faces.
My passion cause has become women’s rights and equality, but what I’ve realized is I, alone cannot change the world. That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned since becoming an involved volunteer: I will make a difference, but it will not be the grand notion I had built in my head. I stay involved with Planned Parenthood and help out at events like Period Product drives that donate to local shelters in my community. I also volunteer with WV FREE, West Virginia’s reproductive justice non-profit, where I canvas, help with lobby days, and whatever else they might need. I’ve also recently gotten involved with the Women’s Health Center, the last remaining clinic to offer abortion care in West Virginia. I volunteer at events they hold and am looking for more ways to help. And this year, I’m looking to expand and learn about domestic violence causes with “Girls Night Out” here in Charleston.
But while this “resume” of sorts sounds overwhelming, it isn’t. The events are spread out, and I’m not required to participate in everything. And I remind myself that if I can’t make it to an event to help, that’s okay. I sometimes need reminding to say “no,” and I sometimes need to remind myself that even if I give small help, it’s still help. I don’t have to try to change the world, and what I’ve learned is the best place to start is with the people in my community, little by little.
— Cali Wesson