Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's nice to be important

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.


Jane said...

I love Free Rice. I haven't done any major volunteering, but the most recent thing I did was help out at my niece's preschool with preparations for Halloween and then staying to hand out candy for children. My cousin volunteered at an animal shelter last year.

Allyn said...

My sister went through a horrid divorce so I think it's wonderful that your taking such a bad part of your life and turning it into doing good for other people. I help out at the assisted living facility where my grandmother lives. I read to people and just walk along with them outside so they can enjoy the fresh air but not be alone in case something happens. I figure one day I might be in assisted living and I'd like for someone to help me. I think I'll go play that rice game and help feed someone. :)

Christine said...

Great post! I wish more people would live by the mantra "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." The world would be a much better place!

I love that you're healing by helping others heal, too. I'll have to check out the Free Rice program.

petite said...

Wonderful post. I volunteer at schools and help children with their reading skills. This is very gratifying and necessary.

Virginia said...

I don't do a lot of volunteering, but I will let someone in front of me at check outs in stores when I have a lot and they dont' have many items. Also take care of my father in law a couple of days a week for my mother in law to get a break and do her shopping and things. He is in pretty bad shape, he is 87 now and doesn't get around to well.

robertsonreads said...

PM, you are such a great mentor. Even after divorce wonderful things do happen, you realize it's not so bad and you WILL make it. Trust me, mine was bad too. And now I am wonderfully blessed!

I have been known to volunteer at my sister's church helping with various functions, and I do other, miscellaneous volunteer work here and there. I have been blessed with individuals who have helped me along the way, and I pass along those blessings.

I have never heard of Free Rice, I will go check that out.

catslady said...

I love free rice too - what a great way to increase your vocabulary. I use to belong to a women's group that did all kinds of different charity work but now I have switched to helping at our American Legion - from parties, food preparation, donations, food bank, sending various items overseas (including books), veteran's hospitals etc. I love your quote!

Anonymous said...

In my school District, I'm considered one of the "usual suspects"! Does that tell you that I volunteer? PTA Council, Board of Education, Special Education PTA, local civic association....that's about it. Oh, and I read scholarship applications from graduating seniors to pick who wins the "prize". Mickey MacD.