The Joy and Benefits of Volunteering
Sometimes it feels as though one more item on my to-do-list will for sure make me go crazy. We all have families, work and so many other responsibilities to take care of each and every day. Just thinking about stretching even further can be a very overwhelming feeling at times. Yet I believe most of us, even with limited time, have that deep desire to reach out and help people around us. In my experience with volunteering in different capacities, I have discovered few joys and benefits along the way. The joy and the learning that comes with reaching out to total strangers as well as those around us in our communities can leave a great impact in our lives. When we volunteer our time and talents to others, it really helps us, as much as the receiver(s). The decision to reach out starts in our heads and our hearts.
To volunteer is something we do by our own free will and choice. According to the Cambridge Dictionary the word volunteer means; to offer to do something that you do not have to do, often without being asked or expecting a compensation. Yet the the interesting thing is, as we start volunteering in whatever capacity we may choose, we discover that we are being rewarded far greater than what we are contributing. There are so many ways to volunteer. Actually when I was young, I used to think that volunteering only meant leaving my home for a long period of time and going to faraway lands to help others in some capacity. Today I understand that the real definition is to offer ANY TIME IN ANY FORM.
Ways to Volunteer
- Make a phone call to a widow who feels lonely, or perhaps a person who is home bound.
- Help a neighbor or friend with their yard work or in their home.
- Take a meal to someone who is either sick or have financial challenges.
- Volunteer your computer skills to someone who is not as literate with all the programs (that would be helping me).
- Help the youth and the elderly in your community.
- Help a young mother with her responsibilities, even if it’s just for one hour.
- Reach out to homeless shelters or animal shelters.
- Help at the local hospitals in their volunteer programs.
- Write letters or send packages to deployed soldiers.
- Use any of your skills and abilities to better the lives of those around you.
Most of us don’t run around telling people when we volunteer, so that we can get a high five or a pat on the back. But I want to share one single experience that left me with additional understanding and the value of compassion. It illustrates how simple it can be to give of ourselves while it effects us to the very core.
Years ago, while I was in my late 20’s, and we were still living in Sweden, I had the opportunity to go and visit a woman in her home. This was not a social call and I had never seen her before in my life. I went with couple of friends as a volunteer to see how we could help. This lady was an immigrant from a culture and language that wasn’t mine but I was familiar with. She was probably around my age and was very beautiful and very gentle. We sat down and started visiting with her. Across the tiny apartment was her husband sitting and working on some project. He on the other hand looked very harsh and not friendly at all. She softly explained that she was married to him in an arranged marriage when she was in her mid teens and he was 20 years older than her. He had been thru some severe trauma of brutal treatments in prison prior to their marriage, and this had left him with horrible consequences, severe PTS . I noticed while we were visiting that she kept starring at my necklace that I was wearing.
Impact On Me
Without any hesitation, I took the necklace off and handed it to her. She started crying. I explained to her that I wanted her to have it, with no strings attached, just a gift to her from me. She then went on saying “I have never received a gift like this in my life”. Those words will never leave me. I learned that day that the true value of a gift is in the giving, and never in its monetary worth. That necklace cost me literally $5, but to her it was more than that, it was worth everything. Couple of minutes after that we had to leave, because her husband started getting upset with her because we were there. We left her apartment and never returned. I have no idea what ever became of this woman, but I want to believe that she was able to keep the necklace as a reminder that there is someone out there who cares for her well-being. 30 minutes and $5 later, I knew that my volunteer was not a sacrifice at all on my part, but rather a chance for me to understand the deeper meaning of our core existence.
“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”
–Roy T. Bennett
Help For Me
I hope we all at some point in our lives have the opportunity to experience the positive overwhelming feeling that comes with a kind action towards us. My first pregnancy was not the greatest, actually it was pretty bad. But with my second I got even more sick. I wanted to sleep all the time and I could barely walk due to my hips and back (discovered later that my arthritis started in my early 20’s). Our daughter was only a year old (I know, what was I thinking with the age difference, right??). This one particular day, I was having a real bad day. I kept thinking and praying that maybe an angel would come and help me. But my experiences in the past left me not hoping for too long. And then, the doorbell of our apartment rang. There stood Monica with her own five children (YES !! Her own 5 kids!!) asking me if I needed help. Initially I felt kind of embarrassed that I would even think that I needed help with just one child, but she assured me that she knew how hard it was for me and that she would love to help me.
Monica, who was a friend of mine, ended up taking our daughter to the playgrounds with her kids for couple of hours while I got to rest. It’s interesting that many moons have come and gone since that day, but I still remember that sweet angel of mine in Sweden who volunteered her time to help a friend in need. So you see, volunteering does not only mean the big things that go viral on social media or the news. Most often than not, volunteering our time and skills means, helping someone in need in a simple way where there are no news stations or cameras taking pictures or notes. Yet other times, we may have the opportunity to volunteer with more complex circumstances. That was the case for my niece Rebecca, who volunteered hours, days, weeks and months, helping Syrian refugees in Europe.
I am You is a non-profit humanitarian organization that was founded in Greece to help refugees. My niece Rebecca, got involved and this is what she told me in her own words .”With this experience my eyes were opened to tremendous amount of pain and suffering. But at the same time what I took with me is all the overwhelming love and support that people from all over the world showed each other. When you get to meet the people behind the headlines it becomes personal and you realize it could’ve been you in that crisis. So you help. It’s was life changing to see how much power I had to make a real difference in someone’s life with just kindness and compassion”.
Benefits of Volunteering
According to one study done by the American Psychological Associations where people over 50 + volunteered for over 200 hours a year, there was a direct link between volunteering and an increase in there overall well-being and physical activity. There are multiple other studies and research that have shown that when we volunteer several things happen to us as individuals. It helps with fighting off stress and depression, offers greater self-esteem and teaches us new skills, and much more. It also helps with our perspective in life. Volunteering expands our social connections to others and with connections comes a greater sense of purpose and belonging.
“Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life”.
As we start reaching out instead of in, we start seeing life thru other people’s eyes and perspective. This helps us to appreciate things differently and we start feeling a sense of gratitude that can not be bought, no matter how rich we are. Once gratitude enters our own lives, we then have an improved quality of life. There in lies the source of true joy and happiness that we all long for. Mahatma Gandhi understood that,“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” .