Yesterday we talked a bit about how informal, community acts of helping and giving can create community connections and teach your children about how giving does not need to be onerous.
Today, let’s talk about another way of giving (and receiving!): volunteering.
I started volunteering as a young child. I recall spending many of my lunch hours in the school store, helping sell yogurt and drinks to other students as a fundraiser for our school council. I worked with one of our supervision aides, a gruff but kind woman who taught me how to make change and do very quick mental math. Throughout high school, I continued to volunteer, and when I became a university student, the volunteering took off to a new level. Social justice clubs. Volunteering to teach English to the spouses of international students who often felt stuck in their homes with the kids. Volunteering to teach ecology to school classes. Volunteering at a local nature center. Cooking food for people in the poorest part of our community.
When I became a parent, my volunteering changed. This is not to say that it decreased. Instead, it changed in its depth. I lost my fear of initiating things. I became relatively fearless, for good or for bad. I started organizations, and I became confident enough to serve on boards and share my growing expertise with others.
Many, many thousands of volunteer hours later, what have I learned?
Volunteering helps you find communities that you never knew existed. I’ve been involved in the human rights community for many years. Did I know that so many people in my area were passionate about helping people around the world? Could I point them out on the street? Volunteerism was an entry to this lovely community.
Volunteering builds new communities. When you have the courage to start something new – or preferably, get some friends together and all start something together, you build a new community. That feels wonderful.
Volunteering is about finding your passions. It is equally about finding those things that you do not enjoy, or dabbling in things that might be an interesting sideline. I enjoy fashion, but many would say that I’m a bit of a dud when it comes to haute couture. Nevertheless, I loved volunteering in to outfit local men and women in clothes suitable for their new jobs and interviews. I even learned how to fold a shirt properly.
Volunteering is about others. It is also about you. Every day, we have 24 hours. Each of us. When we give our time, that is truly a gift. However, when we give our time, all of those around us give their time to us. That is even more of a gift. It is the gift of community, and of being given learning experiences that we could never get elsewhere.