The Privilege in Service

I sometimes have mixed feelings regarding the dynamics involved in volunteering. It’s well known but little talked about that volunteering itself is a privilege. However, when I think of participating in service, I don’t normally equate it to the other privileges I am acutely aware of every day: my race, my economic status, my sexual orientation. Yet, the fact of the matter is that the time, effort, and lack of money involved in most volunteer gigs is an entitlement that not all have the ability to access. As such, volunteering becomes another case of the “haves” and the “have nots.” Best intentions aside, how do you not let this affect your relationship with the people you are serving? To ignore it seems dismissive, and to focus on it too much then makes all volunteering projects take on a savior complex. A lot of my time this service year has been spent thinking about questions like these. For instance, partaking in this AmeriCorps service year is an experience that lends itself only to candidates who are privileged enough to either have the savings or help to live on a governmental stipend. My fellow members and I talked briefly about this during our training, but this is something I’ve grappled with since. Are we only increasing the divide in the “us” versus “them” attitudes that plague our country if only those privileged enough can be in a position to serve? Another example of this internal conflict I face surrounds my use of food stamps. I will be the first to admit that I try to minimize the time that my easily recognizable EBT card is in the open at the check-out counter. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I am most afraid of the judgments of others. I hear their silent questions in my own mind: “she’s young and healthy, why is she on food assistance? Another millennial scamming the system, why doesn’t she just get a job?” I guess what I am trying to say is that it can be uncomfortable to acknowledge your privilege even when you’re trying to do something good. But I think that’s the point of privilege— it should make you uncomfortable, in all situations. Because if you’re uncomfortable you can check yourself; you can actively work to acknowledge and better understand your privilege. Complacency leads to apathy and what we need now, in this time, in this America, more than ever, is passion and concern. Moving forward in my service year, I’m going to continue to challenge my thoughts and tolerate my distress. Because after all, my uncomfortability is a privilege and it’s one I will gladly accept.


This post was written by NHC member Becca Rohac
Becca serves at Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center as a Patient Care Navigator