Minus two weeks of vacation, I work more than 2000 hours in a year. This doesn’t even factor in those nail-biting months of looming deadlines and mile-long “to-do” lists.

In December of last year, as I sat at my desk sipping on coffee number x (I stop counting after 3,) and thought…this New Year, I must do something different.

I pulled out my calculator.

Volunteers at The Living Room Cafe; Courtney is the second from the left.

I give my job 2000 plus hours per year. I work out about 3 hours per week over 50 weeks (I do nothing but eat during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I couldn’t count those), which totals about 160 hours per year. For my guilty pleasure of watching reality TV, I dedicate about 3 hours per week over the typical 15 week season, which totals about 45 hours per year. I was too scared to even begin to factor in the hours sitting in traffic, waiting on the EL, talking on the phone or shopping.

Looking at the amount of time I spent on the things in my life, I realized I needed to sprinkle my New Year with more giving and budget my time to include community service. So, I set a goal that in 2011, I would give 100 hours of my time to serving others.

Looking back, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of Chicago Cares projects. Some of my favorite projects are The Living Room Café and Homework Help with Chicago Lights.

At the Living Room Café, we serve the homeless population. Every two weeks, I flip pancakes on the grill and I am now known as “the pancake specialist”. What was most impactful (other than developing the ability to make 60 pancakes in 20 minutes) was witnessing the change in the people we served. When you first meet them, they appear to have broken spirits. But as the months pass, they are eventually able to look you in the eye and you can see the confidence they are gaining as they put the pieces of their lives back together.

At Homework Help with Chicago Lights, I currently work with a 1st grader who is working on improving her penmanship, specifically in writing the letter ‘g’. Just last week she wrote them perfectly, twenty in a row, and after each one she looked up at me for approval. At the end of the night, she hugged me and said, “I wish I love you had the letter ‘g’ in it”. I knew then, that I was becoming her role model and that touched my heart.

Courtney reached her goal of 100 hours served in 2011!

I never thought by dedicating 100 hours of my time, that my life would be enriched so much. I have had the opportunity to network and even add a few friends to my social circle. However, the biggest impact is that I am happier and lead a much more purposeful life.

I have come to realize that our lives are not about us, but what we can do for others. My favorite quote is by Muhammad Ali. He once stated that “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” I’ve paid my rent for 2011 by giving 100 hours of service.

I plan to pay my rent again for 2012, will you join me?

Today’s post is by Chicago Cares volunteer, Courtney Patterson. We are so happy about Courtney’s commitment to service and we’re excited to have her lead a site at this year’s Celebration of Service on January 14!