Volunteerism should be a big deal in our country. It is universally valued--nobody in their right mind would say disparaging words about volunteers or volunteering. Not everyone can be a philanthropic giver, but most everyone can be a volunteer. You don’t have to have wealth or material resource; you just need to have time, heart and a sense of adventure. Volunteering is not age constrained and can be enjoyed by both the young and old. Volunteering is not only good for society--organizations like the Family Care Network depend on it--but it’s good for you, the Volunteer. I believe volunteerism serves as a bellwether for a healthy community!
According to the Corporation for National Community Service, 25.3 % of Americans volunteer, which is 62.8 million volunteers. America averages 32.1 volunteer hours per person, per year, which comes to 7.9 billion hours of service, the equivalent of $184 billion. Unfortunately, the number of volunteers has steadily declined for decades, at one time being as high as 35-40%. This decline is not a good trend, and gives all the more reason for the Virtues of Volunteering to be promoted.
Benjamin Franklin is considered the “Founding Father of American Volunteerism.” His philosophy was “one served not to save their soul, but to build a strong society.” Acting on this belief, he gathered volunteers to sweep the streets of Philadelphia, organized the nation’s first volunteer fire department, established a voluntary militia and organized a volunteer aid society. Let’s explore why Volunteerism is so essential to “building a strong society.”
Volunteering is good for us--research definitively proves Volunteers live longer and are healthier! In fact, during later life, volunteering is even more beneficial for one's health than exercising and eating well. Older people who volunteer remain physically functional longer, have more robust psychological wellbeing, and live longer. My grandmother and mom served as my Volunteer role models. My grandma volunteered as a “candy striper” at the local hospital into her late 80s, and my mom volunteered as a choir director and teacher until her death. Volunteering helps us transcend the narrow boundaries of our lifestyle routines and engage a broader, deeper world which can only enrich us.
Being a Volunteer creates new relationships and new perspectives. Despite all of the online, social media connections that are available at our fingertips, people are more lonelier now than ever before. It is no surprise, and very sad, that current studies report that loneliness is at an all-time high. Volunteering can be a great “loneliness” antidote for the volunteer and the recipient. Remember–we are social beings and need face-to-face relationships and contact in order to survive. Over the years, I have done some volunteering at prisons, nursing homes and through the church. Each of these experiences have been invaluable. The stories (even the sad ones), unique personalities and colorful characters volunteering exposes us to are life changing. Everyone has a story to tell if you give them the chance to!
Volunteering builds Character. Volunteering will expand your base of wisdom and knowledge. New experiences produce new perspectives which give us a greater depth of understanding and a broader worldview. Being a volunteer helps build confidence and courage. Like anything new, venturing out to volunteer requires a certain sense of adventure and risk-taking. But I guarantee, once you have made that step you will never regret it! Volunteering builds empathy and creates a connection to humanity. Again, it is no surprise that research demonstrate those who volunteer feel more loved and are happier. Spending time with other people, in whatever volunteer capacity, will create human connections that will be transformative. Volunteering will expand a person’s sense of Social Justice. By virtue of working on social causes, you will learn more about community needs, social responsibility and your ability to make a positive impact.
Being a Volunteer improves all areas of one’s life. Most people live within very tight, narrow, somewhat sheltered boundaries. By expanding personal horizons, helping others, being part of a team, helping solve social problems, building a better community, or whatever volunteer activity you choose, you will absolutely have a meaningful, life-enriching experience. In addition to personal health and wellbeing as mentioned above, studies have shown that volunteers do better in their professional careers, in their personal relationships and in social situations. Volunteering makes people more well-rounded, positive and optimistic, creative and innovative, and hopeful and encouraging. Volunteering has a reverberating positive effect!
Volunteering provides an expanded Sense of Purpose. Volunteering serves to express and facilitate opportunities to carry out one’s sense of purpose. The very nature of volunteering means choosing to work without being paid for it. As a result, people choose to spend their time on issues they feel strongly about. If you are greatly concerned about the homeless, for example, volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen will help you address a social problem that is meaningful to you. The greater a person’s sense of purpose, the less they are self-centered and self focused, and the more personally fulfilled and content they become.
Volunteering is Good for Society and our Community. All mission-driven organizations, like the Family Care Network, are successful only if they maintain a strong volunteer workforce. Our Foster Parents are a perfect example. Without them we could not serve traumatized foster children and youth. In fact, many places like museums, social service organizations, and faith-based organizations often rely on more volunteers than paid workers to meet their goals and fulfill their mission. These organizations are committed to doing good things for society. They pick up the pieces where government programs leave off, and by volunteering for these organizations, you participate in helping our society meet the needs of people from all walks of life.
Volunteers are amazing people whom we very much value and appreciate at the Family Care Network. The following quotes sum up my feelings quite well:
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you Volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” (Author unknown)
Erma Bombeck said, “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”
Become a Volunteer – you’ll be glad you did!
For more information on volunteering opportunities at FCNI, please visit: FCNI.org/be-the-difference