Mo Rocca discusses "volunteering voluntarily" and what he has learned from his Open Doors students. / Thom Kaine
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Oct. 26, 2013, is the 23rd annual Make A Difference Day, the nation’s largest day of community service. On Make A Difference Day 2013, millions of volunteers will unite to improve the lives of others in their communities.
Find out how you can join us at makeadifferenceday.com.
Growing up, most of the volunteering I did was not voluntary: I assisted at a day care center before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. I visited with the elderly for my high school’s service requirement.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I began volunteering voluntarily. That’s when I became a mentor with Open Doors, a program started by the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein that matches professionals who’ve worked in the theater with small groups of New York City high school students new to the theater world.
I brought my students to six stage productions a year; they were exposed to a lot. But I learned more from them than they did from me.
I had never thought about the great courtroom drama 12 Angry Men from the perspective of the young (off-stage) defendant. A student with mental illness in her family helped me understand better the family in the musical Next to Normal. And Our Town — Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece — came to life for me when one 16-year-old reminded me to take at least a moment out of my day to stop tweeting and look up at the sky. Lesson learned.
As Anna puts it in The King and I, “If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”
Indeed, it was the students at Open Doors who taught me the real power of volunteering, and it’s a lesson I hope to pass on.