10 in Their 20s – A generation of volunteers

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(Host) For ten Mondays, VPR is featuring a new series of commentaries from “10 in Their 20s,” in which members of Vermont’s 20-something generation share their perspectives on issues that matter the most to them – from the local to the global. This week, Rebekah Zietz reflects on the importance of volunteering.

(Zietz) The term Generation X was intended to signify the apathetic nature of disillusioned youth. Movies such as Reality Bites and Slackers were created to “speak to a generation” of what adults saw as rowdy unlawful teens.

By the time I was born in 1982, I was a member of “Generation Y.” Why Y? Well, to this day I am still not quite sure what “Generation Y” means. But when I was 9 years old I remember sitting in my third grade classroom listening to my teacher insist that it was important not to identify with such labels. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she resented having been pegged as a member of generation X, but for whatever reason, I took her words seriously and I’ve been working hard against the stereotyping of my generation ever since.

By the 4th grade I was volunteering with my class at a local homeless shelter. At that time I was still too young to understand what a homeless shelter really was, but I very much enjoyed the idea of helping others. Whether it was serving food, playing board games or simply listening to people’s stories, I liked knowing that I was making some sort of positive difference in someone’s life.

Through middle school, high school and now in college, I have continued to volunteer. For the past three spring breaks that I have been in University, I have participated in a program called Alternative Spring Break. This student run organization provides one hundred or so students with the opportunity to do volunteer based service during the week of spring break, instead of partaking in the typical spring break party.

Each year I make new friends, travel to new cities and experience things that I don’t get to see on a daily basis. It bursts my bubble of academic consumption and reminds me that helping others is truly important.

“It only takes one person to make a difference” – or so the old saying goes – but change can’t occur unless we acknowledge that it needs to, and then commit our own time to it. Volunteering is my alternative to being identified with a stereotype, and right now, it’s one of the most important forces in my life.

I’m Rebekah Zietz of Burlington.

Rebekah Ziets is a student at the University of Vermont.

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