Last week was National Volunteer Week, but because it was also Best of the Bookshelf Week, I had to let it slide until today. But this week or last, volunteering is important. You shouldn't need a specially designated "week" to give back to your community and/or the world.
I've yet to hear of an organization that turns down volunteers. Every week my church bulletin is filled with announcements about this agency or that group needing help. Sometimes they need money. Sometimes they need supplies. And sometimes they need YOU.
A group of folks I know are very involved with a program called Foodline. It's a program to provide emergency food to individuals and families who run out of money before they've run out of month. I sat in on a Foodline session one day and I felt absolutely horrid about having complained I'd not had a steak in a month. Some folks have NOTHING. They are like Old Mother Hubbard, and the cupboard is bare -- at least until the next Social Security or disability check arrives.
Other folks I know are very involved with Habitat for Humanity. Our local group is building five new homes in the same neighborhood this year, and since 1987 they have provided 187 families with new homes in this community. In 2010, 4,651 local volunteers worked 26,475 hours and helped make this group one of the top 50 US affiliates of Habitat International.
A family in my church has a daughter who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in the African country of Burkina Faso. At the moment, she's contemplating extending for a third year. It's one thing to sit at a phone in an air-conditioned office and listen to folks tell you they have no food. It's quite another to give up two years (or more) of your life halfway around the world.
I am currently working with a program called Beginning Experience. It's a peer ministry for persons who are separated, divorced or widowed and is based around the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model of five stages of grief. I attended the program as a participant and then felt drawn to help as a facilitator. It isn't easy to step into a room full of strangers and spill your guts about being divorced. It's also not easy to sit and listen as a facilitator. It takes me back to when I first attended and I often wonder, "Was I that much of an emotional mess?" (And the answer is yes.)
This isn't my first brush with volunteerism. When I started listing all the places I'd volunteered, I was quite surprised to see how much of my time I'd given away to a telephone crisis hotline, various churches, my boys' schools (I was always the field trip mom), three different neighborhood watch programs, the homeowners' association where I used to live, Cub Scouts and Romance Writers of America at both the national and local level.
Most of us think it's nice to be important. And yeah, it feels good. But...
And you don't even have to leave your desk to be nice and help others. Sites such as Free Rice let you click at the keyboard, test your vocabulary and donate rice to help end world hunger. Or just offering to help the elderly lady across the street can mean the difference in her having a bad day and having a good one. A kind gesture, no matter how small, can make an enormous difference.
Do you volunteer? One random commenter will get a book from my stash.