Thursday, October 15, 2009

Volunteerism - A Way to Connect to the World

When was the last time you volunteered?

While trolling the news feeds for something interesting to blog about I came across an article by USA Today writer Gary Strauss.  Apparently volunteering is the current "in" topic for television.  Linked to a program called "I Participate," many prime time television shows are working volunteering into their character's story lines.

The idea for this grand Hollywood project started during the presidential campaigns in 2008 when candidates Barack Obama and John McCain noted that public service and volunteerism should be national priorities.  Hollywood has taken on the challenge to show volunteerism in every day life, doing things like donating blood, working in a soup kitchen, helping out in an animal shelter and sending video messages to the troops.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics a little over 1 in 4 Americans perform volunteer activities, with women, students and college graduates the most likely volunteers. It is also worthy to note that an overwhelming number of volunteers spent their time with religious related volunteer opportunities.

So I ask again, when was the last time you volunteered?  How much time did you donate?  Are you planning on doing it again?

Many of you already volunteer.  For some it is a way to give back, for others a way to put effort into important causes.  Some people volunteer as a way to make friends within a group of people who have a common goal or belief structure.  Some volunteer as a way to stay involved after retirement or when the kids are out of the house.  It doesn't really matter why you volunteer, only that you do volunteer.

So what are you going to do?  How can you participate?  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says people are most likely to volunteer within organizations supporting their religion or children.  Is there somewhere you can help out?

To the 3 out of 4 Americans who do not volunteer their time in any way, I would like to ask a few questions.  First, why not?  Many people have busy, crazy lives but they find time to volunteer.  Second, what are you afraid of?  Volunteering is an amazing way to add to a sense of contentment and self worth. Good things, no? And third, what talent do you have which can help others?

I fall into the category most likely to volunteer, I am female, married, with kids, with a college degree.  I also spend most of my volunteer time in the typical spots, with my church and with my kid's activities.  I find it interesting to know that only 1 in 4 volunteer.  The thought of giving up the rewards of volunteering is overwhelming to me.  I love being involved in a common cause.  There are many volunteer activities which stretch my talents and test my endurance.  I learn people skills, diplomacy, and tact.  I am able to meet new people and unite with strangers.  I get just as much from volunteering as I give, maybe even more.

As a mom I spend a lot of time every day doing things for others.  Between multiple meals a day, chauffeur service to activities, daily homework help and the added fun of maintaining a household, I get a a little cagey sometimes.  When I volunteer I am able to change my view a little, and I like what I see.

So find a way to volunteer.  It will expand your definition of self.  It may give you a deeper sense of appreciation for how far you have come.  It will introduce you to new people and help you see a different side to issues you hold dear.

You don't have to save the world today, but you can save today for the world.  Happy volunteering!

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