Someone recently asked me, “Why non-profit?” I could say it was for the money, but that would be a joke. Let’s face it, non-profit work pays peanuts and is hard work. But what I do get is so much more valuable than any paycheck.
My work has encompassed many areas: the ID/DD population, hospice, mental health, and the elderly and disabled. Each job was quite different in some ways, but each had the one big reason for why I love non-profit work – people. I could say it was about the lives I touch, but that’s not completely true. Don’t get me wrong – I do love that I get to spend my days helping people. But more than that, it’s about the lives that touch me.
It’s about the young man who is developmentally disabled and non-verbal, who just needs a way to express his anger. So, we played cards. He would come to my office when he was “acting out”, and we “played” cards, in his way. But within a little while, he was calm and ready to return to his “day programming” group. I have since changed jobs, but whenever I see him out the community now, I am greeted with a big hug. That makes it all worth while.
It’s about the man who was diagnosed with terminal cancer who lived in a little camper – the kind you would hook to the back of a pick-up. He had nothing material, but he had an unwavering faith and such a sweet spirit. He was young – early 50’s – and though he had nothing, he was always providing for others. He never locked the door to his little camper, which sat on a friend’s property and relied on an extension cord for electricity. He once told me that he kept it unlocked so that someone could get out of the rain or cold if they needed to. One time someone did, and this man welcomed him in and gave him a hot meal of fried bologna and mac & cheese, which was all the food he had. He had just a first grade education and couldn’t read, but he knew the Bible backward and forward. You couldn’t spend time with him without feeling that you had been in the presence of God, even for those who didn’t believe.
It’s about the 10-year-old child with multiple mental health diagnoses whose family needs support in the home. Seeing her in the community several years later, getting a hug, and hearing about the positive direction she is now going as a teenager made all those late nights, 911 calls, and bites and bruises I received all worth it.
So, no, I don’t make a lot of money, and yes, I could make more if I took my master’s degree to the corporate world. But, it’s not about the money. It’s about people. People who can’t advocate for themselves. People who are more concerned for others’ welfare than the fact that they’re dying. Children who are fighting battles within themselves that they can’t begin to understand, yet continue to fight for a “normal” life. It’s the thank you’s. It’s the hugs. It’s knowing that I have made even a small difference in their lives. But more than that, it’s knowing that they’ve all made a difference in mine.