Volunteering: The Most Humbling Selfish Act of Kindness

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

Posted Jan 23, 2018

Ever since I was a young kid, I have always enjoyed volunteering. I was Key Club Vice President in high school and I was always coming up with grand ideas to raise money, bring awareness to an issue or just be an active voice in the community. Whether it was serving meals to the homeless, spending time in nursing homes, tutoring kids, or even volunteering abroad I have been drawn to giving my time, money and skill to others; however its not all exactly a selfless act. Over the years, I have realized that I receive a lot of personal gain from volunteering. I have strengthened ties within my community, learned gratitude, kindness and patience, made new friends, learned how other people live, experienced the time and patience it takes to run fundraisers, gained new insights on other cultures and ways of life, learned about humility and kindness, dealt with the demanding and unfair politics that come with large NGOs and have learned to be a better leader and role model. Yes, of course my heart becomes more full every time I give back to someone who is less fortunate but I feel that I gain more in return. Whether they are less fortunate in their health, financial status, social status, educational status or simply have been born into a war-ridden country; I have learned some of the most important lessons in life from the “less fortunate”. Oddly enough, many of these individuals have more wisdom, generosity and kindness than those who we consider to be “more fortunate”.

Adventured in Caring, used with permission
Raggedy Anne, Adventures in Caring 
Source: Adventured in Caring, used with permission

When I was in college, I volunteered for Adventures in Caring, where I dressed up as Raggedy Anne and visited patients in hospice care at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California. I was a walking, talking, live Raggedy Anne doll, with the big curly red wig, a red painted heart on my nose, and the red and white knee-high striped socks. There were two experiences that changed me forever during my "Adventures in Caring".

One bright and sunny Saturday morning, I walked into a man’s room. He was cachectic, covered in tattoos and sunspots and looked like he lived a “rough” life. After conversing with him for about 20 minutes, I learned he was in the motorcycle gang, Hell’s Angels and definitely looked the part. Under his rough exterior, he was one of the kindest souls I ever met and was sadly, dying of lung cancer. I continued to visit him every Saturday for about six months until he passed away and to this day, my favorite memory of him was when he told me “You are one to the world but to one, you are the world”.  He thanked me every Saturday for spending time with him, and I sadly, did not get to share with him how big of an impact he made on me. I will carry this quote in my heart for the rest of my life.

On another Saturday as I was leaving the hospital, a young woman came running after me, frantically in tears. I was about to enter the elevator to go home when she asked if I could visit her mother. She told me how her mom loved Raggedy Anne and since I was a live, walking Raggedy Anne doll she would very much appreciate it if I could say hello to her mother. I was not prepared for what was coming next.

I walked into her mother’s hospital room, filled wall to wall with family members. Tears were streaming down every single cheek and not a word could be spoken. There was a fragile elderly woman lying in the hospital bed hooked up to an oxygen tank. She was struggling to take her last breath, and although I was only 19 years of age, I knew I was meant to be in this room, at this moment. As she reached for my dress, I knelt down and held her hand. She smiled and peacefully passed away, clutching my hand and the doll I was carrying. I hugged her daughter, for what seemed like an eternity, in the hallway of Cottage Hospital and later learned that I reminded her mother of her favorite doll that was in her home. I was able to bring her a sense of peace during the final moments of her life.

Kristen Fuller
Christmas at Paradiso Mpya Orphanage. Arusha, Tanzania
Source: Kristen Fuller

My years dressed as Raggedy Anne progressed to years spent abroad in foreign countries, raising money, teaching, and empowering women. I have had malaria, twice, tested positive for TB and probably have had every intestinal bug you could possibly imagine, but these experiences have shaped who I am today. You do not need to go across the world to lend a hand and benefit from volunteering as most opportunities are waiting for you, in your own backyard.  I am now in my early thirties and my years of living abroad and dressing up as a doll are behind me however I currently spend most of my free time volunteering and hosting hikes, backpacking trips and camping trips for my women’s community hiking group, where I have met some of my closest friends.  I spend hours and hours each month researching new trails and campsites to explore, driving to far away places, answering questions online, and putting out fires on Facebook (GirlsWhoHike is a closed Facebook group) in an effort to empower women to get outside to break out of their comfort zone because that’s when you really experience life. I have taken women on their very first hike, very first backpacking trip and very first camping trip and in the past couple of years, I have used my outdoor leadership position to raise money for local organizations within the hiking community and within the Orange County Community. I hold The Heroes Project, an organization for wounded veterans, very near and dear to my heart and recently I have become involved with Border Angels and South County Outreach, all amazing and life-changing organizations in which I truly feel that no matter how much time and money I donate, I receive more from my experiences than I can give; and this is why I volunteer.

Kristen Fuller
Climb For Heroes, Mt Baldy. The Heroes Project makes the impossible a reality by empowering injured war veterans through physical and emotional training, allowing them to explore the farthest reaches of themselves and the world they live in.  
Source: Kristen Fuller

I am currently fundraising a large amount of money for Make-A-Wish foundation through Trailblaze Challenge where I will be hiking 28 miles in 24 hours in May, on the Pacific Crest Trail. I have a lot of personal history with Make-A-Wish foundation and I am overjoyed with what the next few months will bring. One of my pediatric patients while I was in residency was a wish kid and his wish was to play basketball with the Memphis Grizzlies. He was 8-years-old with a deadly chronic disease and everyday, he was always so happy to greet me. I walked into his hospital room every morning looking disheveled, tired and in desperate need of caffeine, but he always gave me a reason to smile. He was less fortunate than me in health, however his positive outlook on life is a gift that many of us work our entire lives to achieve. He passed away during my second year of residency but I will never forget to always wake up and appreciate the present moment. One of my family members was also a wish kid when she was 17-years-of age and she was granted her wish to visit NYC, the city that never sleeps. This organization does change lives and I am excited to be a part of giving back to kids who are in need of a glimmer of happiness during their darkest days. Volunteering can and will change your life and you will be surprised that you may benefit more from giving than you ever imagined. This is why I call volunteering, the most "humbling selfish act of kindness". 

Kristen Fuller
Remnants of migrant crossings during our water drop hike for Border Angels. Border Angels leaves dozens of gallon jugs of water in the desert along high-traffic migrant paths. Why? Following 1994, when the US government implemented its most inhumane border enforcement policies ever, more than 11,000 sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives have died. Their main cause of death? Dehydration.
Source: Kristen Fuller

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

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