Freely offer to do something… why do people give their precious time for others? There are many references that show physical benefits that volunteers portray, such as improved wellbeing and mental health, longer lifespan and possibly even improved cardiovascular health. Many professional schools and corporations are looking at extracurricular activities on resumes and applications. Numerous community organizations rely on volunteers for events and programs, so people feel they are needed to provide for other members of the community, even their childs’ school or sports teams. And some individuals give for the wellbeing of others, selflessly they give for others, with little benefit to themselves.
Growing up, my parents demonstrated a give back to the community attitude. Both of my parents were involved in the local volunteer fire brigade, my dad as a fireman and many years acting as treasurer. I can still hear the nightly testing announcement that came across the brigade’s radio system. My mother was involved in the ladies’ auxiliary, which often hosted events to raise money for the brigade. I have memories of my parents heading out on a Friday or Saturday evening to serve and wash dishes at a turkey dinner, or mom calling her list of people asking for volunteers to bake a pie or cook a turkey. I don’t recall my parents ever suggesting or encouraging my siblings and I to volunteer. I guess I just followed by example. It wasn’t about a scholarship, or admittance to a school or a program.
Volunteering teaches a sense of community, a belonging, to both the volunteer and the recipient. It enhances the feeling that everyone is united in their successes and shortcomings. It can be a great way to meet and really get to know people in your neighborhood, or people in other communities, even different cultures. The experiences can be local and simple. Children can have a great sense of community and respect for the environment by helping to pick up trash in a local park or playground. A school choir could visit the local nursing home and sing carols to the residents. Both the children, the teachers and the residents benefit from that feeling of togetherness, that sense of community. My good friend is learning about Syrian culture by helping out with a local refugee family in our community. And she’s making the new family feel like part of our community.
Many people want to reach out and help others in need. A random act of kindness, to a stranger or someone you know, can be so much appreciated. Sometimes this is helping out the homeless in your own community, by volunteering at a soup kitchen. It can be volunteering with a large organization such as the Red Cross, by donating to a cause or going to the community in need due to a natural disaster. Sometimes this desire to help will bring people to parts of the world their parents never considered going. It can be an opportunity for us to teach others and for us to learn from them.
When my girls were growing up, I tried to teach them how to be a good citizen and give back to their community. I volunteered at the school when there was no cafeteria, we would give the students a hot lunch one day a week (yes, it was hot dogs, pizza and even McDonald’s…….this was before the healthy eating policy……..forward ten years and we weren’t allowed to serve a date square to parents and grandparents at the Christmas Tea). When there was no opportunity for my girls to attend Sparks, I became a leader. Girl Guides was such a huge part of my life, I couldn’t imagine my girls wouldn’t have that same character building experience.
Over the years, I wanted my girls to experience new things, things that they were passionate about, things that would help them build their own character and yes, even get them into a good school. What parent doesn’t want that for their child? It was probably my suggestion that we deliver food baskets at Christmas and buy a gift for the Christmas Angel Tree. But it wasn’t long that I was seeing them develop their own desire to help and learn by volunteering. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ashlyn asked me if we could go on a mission trip. You can read about where this conversation led us (here)……
Now that my daughters are starting to find their way, learning how to manage their struggles and successes at university, I have free time. My days of organizing plant sales and tag days are over. I can’t say I miss the walk through Times Square with 77 band students, but I do miss the conversations with my girls about their days at school and the many teachers that have influenced them to create their own communities and opportunities. I am adjusting to the quiet house and finding more time to spend with my husband. I know that someday soon I will find a cause or group that will fill that gap and satisfy my desire to help others.