Give Now

The Power of Thank You

By: Tara Schoenborn

It’s five o’clock on Monday night and I am swearing at every single car on the 101 because, yes, it is, in fact, everyone else’s fault that I am going to be late. I mean, come on. It is not my fault that I got held up at work. It is also not my fault I didn’t decide to take a back road. It is definitely not my fault that I forgot I had plans with friends right after this. So, when I finally arrive at Villa Majella of Santa Barbara – actually not late might I add – I am stressed out, annoyed and an all-together unpleasant human being, who plans to leave as soon as I put down the meal that I volunteered to make for its residents. Before I could run out, however, I am greeted with hugs and endless “thank yous” from the four pregnant woman that I cooked dinner for that night, and, suddenly, my stress, anger and anxiety vanish. I instantly remember why I make meals for these amazing women each month. It’s what I call the power of thank you.

Ever since I can remember, I have volunteered. From organizing tennis tournaments for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to putting on a walk to raise money for diabetes research - I drove my parents nuts with my apparent addiction to volunteering. One minute, I would be organizing a food drive at my high school for hurricane victims and the next I was making my boyfriend volunteer at a nursing home with me in order to hang out with me – I am pretty confident that was probably not his first choice in dating activities.

When I got to college, I found myself tutoring at ESL centers, on the board of my campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity and far too over-involved in fifty other philanthropic activities, which sealed the fate of my volunteering addiction. However, it wasn’t until after college, when I was in graduate school in D.C., that I really began to understand why I just could not stop volunteering.

One weekend in October, I met up with my parents to celebrate my dad’s college reunion and was chatting with one of his Navy buddies about how I wanted to work in nonprofit and international development. He then turned to my dad and said, “oh no, you have one of those save-the-world types on your hands.”

First and foremost, I laughed because the look on my dad’s face was one of “believe me, I keep trying to tell her to do something else.” However, as I thought about it and the conversation turned into telling me to get rich in the corporate sector, I started to think about why I am apparently addicted to volunteering and committed to a career in the nonprofit sector. What motivated me to organize tennis tournaments and tutor at ESL centers when I was younger? Why did I still volunteer at soup kitchens and serve on committees? Most importantly, and to the man’s point, why was I bent on putting myself through a graduate program for the same reason?

As I thought about it, I realized that the reason that I love volunteering and I want a career in the nonprofit sector is the power of the “thank yous.” It was knowing the stories of the people at the soup kitchens and the ESL centers. It was listening to them laugh and seeing their smiles. Most of all, it was their gratitude and the overwhelming appreciation that they had for me just giving a little bit of my time. The power of “thank you” not only inspires me to continue volunteering, but has also continued to motivate my work in the nonprofit sector because I feel like I am making a positive difference in the community. However, and even more importantly, the power of “thank you” helps me become a better person and continually strive to improve myself. It reminds me that, even when I am stuck in endless traffic on the 101, it is not the end of the world. I have so much to be grateful for and so much to learn from the amazing organizations that I have the privilege to volunteer at and the populations that they serve. So, to all of the people who I have had the chance to volunteer with, or for, throughout the course of my life, thank YOU for your inspiration, your support, your lessons and your friendship – I am a better person because of you.

Tara Schoenborn is a communications officer for the Santa Barbara Foundation.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101