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Volunteering - It's Good for You!

by Race Bannon

Dahn van Laarz (left), Vice President, and Angel Garfold (right), President, of the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance
Dahn van Laarz (left), Vice President, and Angel Garfold (right), President, of the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance  (Source:Rich Stadtmiller)

A word you often hear in the leather scene is "service," usually referencing service to community. I'm not one to tout what are often referred to as leather values, service being one of them, because I feel such values are essentially human values that everyone should abide by, not just the kinky among us. But service to others is a rather good value to adopt regardless.

One way to offer service to one's fellow humans is volunteering. The organized elements of the leather and kink world run mostly on the energy of volunteers. Whether it's a play party, social event, education class, or whatever, most of them are produced and run by volunteers.

I could make a pitch here that your community needs you. That service to the community is noble. While it's true that all communities need volunteers and such contributions are indeed noble when done with the right intention, I've not typically found that altruism and self-sacrifice are top-level motivators when it comes to luring volunteers to help.

So, instead, I'm going to appeal to pure, unadulterated self-interest. Volunteering benefits "you" as much or more than it does the communities in which you do it. Yes, volunteering doesn't just help others, it has a direct impact on your own happiness, well-being and growth. This view is also supported by solid research.

Volunteering can: replace a sense of loneliness and isolation with a sense of belonging; create stronger bonds between those working together; spawn new and closer friendships; improve one's mental health; reduce depression; develop improved self-esteem; increase one's fitness if your duties involve lots of movement; improve overall health; keep one's mental acuity sharp and more resistant to decline as we age; develop networks of people with whom you can share information, skills and career opportunities; and much more.

Bottom line, volunteering is a win for the communities you serve, but just as importantly it's a win for you as you garner the many benefits your contributions bring about.

I have dozens of good friends who are avid volunteers, but my space here is limited. So, I asked just three of them what benefits they receive from volunteering.

Dahn van Laarz is a long-time volunteer and served as the President of the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance for many years, now serving as its Vice President.

Angel Garfold was elected as President of the Alliance recently and has volunteered in many capacities for years.

Deborah Hoffman-Wade is another local I've long admired for her dedicated volunteer work.

Dahn offered this as something he sees as a big benefit from volunteering.

"A sense of belonging to their tribe," Dahn offered. "Many people are shyer than they let on and volunteering is a way for them to feel both like they belong and are appreciated. Also, there's the satisfaction at creating something and seeing others benefit and feel connected."
Rich Stadtmiller, one of the leather scene's most dedicated volunteer event photographers, and founder of VoluNon. photo: Joe Mazza

Garfold gets this from volunteering.

"A sense of camaraderie, empowerment, a way to afford to attend events that otherwise might not be an option," said Garfold. "Since I found I learned a lot more about myself, including what I feel passionate about and what skills I have (or learned), I believe it's a great way to grow as a person, too."

Hoffman-Wade mentioned even more things she gets out of volunteering.

"I get to laugh a lot while using my unique skills to connect with others," she said. "I'm also benefited by learning from amazing people who have done so much more than me. It is the practical application of service. I guess it comes down to it makes me feel good, even when it is hard. In the '80s it was because no one else stepped up to help and although it was hard holding death and still loving life, I worked with amazingly strong women and men. Some of my most endearing and long-lasting friendships came from volunteering for small organizations."

On a lighter note, while volunteering can certainly be an enjoyable and fulfilling part of a person's life, it can also be somewhat habit forming, and can tempt people to over extend themselves to the point of burnout.

Addressing this, Rich Stadtmiller formed the semi-tongue-in-cheek organization, "VoluNon, the ostensibly mythical support system for compulsive volunteers." Their motto is "Don't beat yourself up. Let us help."

If you have ever paid out $200 to raise $100 for charity or left one meeting to attend another, you might want to check if you have, as Stadtmiller often jokes, Voluntitis.

I think everyone should consider volunteering for something. Anything. Whatever resonates with you. Muhammad Ali put it this way. "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth." I agree with him.


Crawling Through the Castro

Sometimes volunteering isn't about helping a group or cause directly, but instead creating something to benefit others. Such was the case this past Saturday when Matt Welch, Mr. Bay Area Cub 2017, took it upon himself to organize a Leather Invasion bar crawl through the Castro, and it was a blast!

Starting at The Lookout, the waxing and waning crowd of about 100 leathered and geared kinksters proceeded to politely invade The Mix, Midnight Sun, Twin Peaks Tavern, 440 Castro, Toad Hall, finally ending up at The Edge for their monthly Code night.

This event testifies to the power of one person taking it upon themselves, using nothing more than a Facebook event page and some networking effort, to create a fun event for so many people.
The always smiling and fashionably dressed Deborah Hoffman-Wade. photo: Rich Stadtmiller

So, yes, you can volunteer to help clubs, organizations and events, but sometimes volunteering means you take it upon yourself to create something wonderful for all to enjoy.


Leather Alliance Weekend Is Here

To highlight yet another volunteer-driven happening, the big annual Leather Alliance Weekend series of events hosted by the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance is finally here. It all takes place this coming weekend, March 2-4, 2018.

Tickets are sold on the event page, but if you're unable or don't want to buy tickets online, the producers have assured me there will be tickets sold at the door for all events.

The Weekend offers a formal dinner, vendor fair, educational and social programs, the Mr. San Francisco Leather and San Francisco Bootblack contests, and more. Check out the entire weekend's schedule and ticket information at www.leatherallianceweekend.org.


Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him on his website, www.bannon.com

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