Create Community: Volunteer

Certainly you have heard of random acts of kindness.  You’ve probably seen the Christmas-themed lists to “get you in the mood” for the season.  There is even a website focused on just this idea where educators teach it in the schools.  They have highlighted World Kindness Day (November 13), Random Acts of Kindness Friday (November 24), Random Acts of Kindness WEEK (February 11-17)!  Who knew?!?

Image result for volunteerFeed America

Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that.  Random.  Those little things can make a big impact on someone’s day, but maybe you loved the feeling you got when you surprised someone so much that you wanted to do more.  I’d like to compare it to your casual and sporadic toss of cash into an offering plate as opposed to your committed, designated and regular donation amount to your church or organization of choice.   There is something very encouraging to the receiver about a giver who is committed and consistent in their donation (whether it be resources, money or time).

Image result for volunteer
Habitat for Humanity

Volunteering is such a win-win for you and your community.  Not only do you personally benefit from serving in a cause that you are passionate about, but (even more importantly) you serve the people in your community.  That in turn, makes where YOU live even better!

Image result for volunteer
Local food bank: Food prep

In 2005, researchers from the National Conference on Citizenship counted the number of nonprofits in 3,100 counties all over the country.  A short three years later, the recession hit and they discovered something astonishing:  The towns with a higher concentration of nonprofits were less likely to become unemployed than those with less nonprofits.  “Just one extra nonprofit per one thousand people added up to a half percentage point few out-of-work residents.”

Image result for volunteer
Together We Rise: Helping Kids in Foster Care

I was amazed when Warnick started noting some of the jobs citizens volunteered to do: put on a police uniform to help patrol the streets (Pasadena, CA), man the front desk of city hall (Naperville, IL!!), direct lost passengers around an airport (Philadelphia, PA), write parking tickets (Deer Park, TX).  Not only did these volunteers help their towns by saving them money, but they probably had a much deeper respect for the people who do those jobs on a regular basis.  Think about it: my first job was a waitress at a breakfast restaurant.  Not only do I have a great appreciation for a great server, I’m pretty aware of when they are not doing a good job.  And yes, I do tip pretty well.

Image result for volunteer
Ready.gov: Plan ahead for disasters

Not only can volunteering give your mood a boost and extra dopamine, it gives you a stronger “place identity.”  While I might identify myself as a teacher or parent in my town, my volunteering creates an opportunity to join the collective “we.”  Our profession and families offer us a sense of good pride, while our service of others can offer an even deeper sense of community pride.  This creates a  greater place attachment to our town.

This quote from Warnick states it perfectly: “The cycle goes something like this: You volunteer, so your town becomes better, which makes it easier to love, which makes you more attached to your town.  As Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him.'”

Image result for volunteer
Local cleanup after storm

Now, it has been proven that those people who stay in a town are much more likely to invest through volunteering (as opposed to those who move a lot).  Cities can be highly transient places, and yet, they often have the greatest needs.  A military wife once said to me that she had moved so many times and this one particular move was only going to be a one year term.  She hated the location of her new home and had no desire to connect.  But, when she did connect with a couple people in that community, she made lasting friendships that she deeply needed at the time.  Sometimes our shortest stays can have the greatest impact (on us and the community we serve).

So where do you serve?

Do you love someone who has been affected by cancer?  Do you love gardening and want to support the public gardens?  Are you a huge music fan and would enjoy supporting the symphony?  Maybe consider a Giving Circle.  Find a group of people that would all like to pool money together (so you can offer a larger donation) and then collectively choose what organization to support.  You can choose a different organization each year.  Whatever you choose, think about your passions and let that lead the way.  Not only will you enjoy the work, it will serve others and in turn make your home a better place to live.

Image result for volunteer

ACTION STEPS

  1.  Start with whatever brings you great joy or breaks your heart.  Is it homelessness in your area?  Check out shelters or soup kitchens.  Kids without good role models?  Consider Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Children in the foster care system?  Contact local agencies to see where you can help.  Even if you aren’t a church goer, consider contacting one in your area.  They often have a great list of what the specific needs are in your area.
  2. VolunteerMatch.org as well as the United Way has a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
  3. If nothing is seeming to fit, look at your town’s website.  They might need some volunteers.  Added bonus, you not only have a greater appreciation for the people who work in your town, you also get to see where your tax dollars are going.
  4. RandomActsofKindness.org has tons of ideas for quick little volunteer options.  These can often be fun for getting little kids involved too.
  5. If you’d like your donation to have possibly a bigger impact, check out GivingCircles.org to see how to get started.

*All quotes and facts come from Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.

Have you ever volunteered anywhere?  What kind of service has been deeply rewarding for you?