On Service

I was talking with a friend from high school the other day, debating the pros and cons of volunteering with children versus old people. I realized that she was pretty much the only person I know, around my age at least, who volunteers on a regular basis like I do. Why is that? Why isn’t volunteering just a regular part of our lives?

My friend’s father, a former priest, is amazing. Well into his 70s, he volunteers at schools, participates in Big Brothers, and has taken in foster babies. I assume that my friend grew up with this focus on service as just being a part of what you did in life. My mom and grandma are the same way. My mom has always participated on boards, volunteered, and helped raised money for many different organizations. My grandma, now in her 80s, still volunteers at the hospital and church, and helps out people in nursing homes. Growing up with them as my role models, volunteering is something that I enjoy now as an adult.

I am no fan of religion, but I really do think that this commitment to service in the community comes from my family’s and my friend’s family’s religious background. As many of us are living more secular lives, it seems that the emphasis on service is being lost. How do we incorporate volunteering and service as a regular part of our lives, if it isn’t coming from the church? How do we make it part of our culture?

I volunteer because my family did, and I hope that when I have kids, they will see volunteering as a normal part of life and want to do it themselves.

And back to the debate of old people versus kids: Working with kids can be fun, but they aren’t as appreciative as old people. Sick old people can be rather sad, but they are appreciative of you. I’ve worked with both and found both rewarding. What do you think?

Wondering how to get involved? I have found www.volunteermatch.org to be the best site to find something that fits my interests and schedule. There are lots of opportunities out there that are only a few hours a week, and I promise that after you get into the routine, you’ll wonder why you didn’t volunteer sooner.

My top 10 reasons to volunteer:

  • Meet new people. Know people only in your industry? Volunteering is a great way to meet people who do completely different things and so have interesting new things to talk about.
  • Learn new things about yourself. Think you aren’t good with kids or not patient? You’ll be surprised by aspects of yourself you never noticed.
  • Get your foot in the door. Contemplating switching careers? Volunteering is a great way to test the waters, see if you like a different industry, and meet people who do that job you are considering.
  • Get energized! A change of scene and doing something active and useful is a great boost.
  • Learn a new skill. There will be something that you have never done before and have to learn, and chances are it is something that will come in useful down the road.
  • Feel good. Helping others and being useful feels wonderful!
  • Change your perspective. Working in the corporate world makes us so focused on money and competition that it is good to do something without those goals. It reminds you that there are other ways to see the world.
  • Help a cause you believe in. Many organizations need your time and talents more than even money. Also, if you don’t have a lot of extra money to donate to a cause, volunteering is a way to contribute.
  • Smiles. Want people to smile when you walk in the door and say thank you when you leave? Volunteering is the easiest way to get that every single time.
  • Give back. Think of all the people who have helped you get where you are today. You can be that person for someone else.

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