Volunteerism. That word sparks either a stomachache or a frisson of excitement in a person, does it not?
In my house, we are divided on the subject. My husband, Ernest, has thoroughly enjoyed assisting with our son’s baseball teams over the years, but has no problem saying “no” to volunteer activities which tend to bury one in piles of paper and meetings. On the other hand, I have a hard time saying “no” and this has gotten me into a few tight places, such as this year when I accidentally became Oak Forest Homeowners Association’s Board President. (That’s another story and please don’t be alarmed; I’m certainly not suggesting you need to take on an officer role somewhere! Start small – and stay with small volunteer tasks if that works best for you, but do give it a try.)
Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Truth! It is hard to remain depressed after chaperoning a field trip, playing with animals at an animal shelter or handing out water to marathon runners for a couple of hours. I find volunteerism to be the best therapy – it gets me out and moving – and helps me connect with the world around me. Selfish a little? Maybe so.
If I was going to choose to spend a great deal of time in a regular volunteer gig, I would have chosen to spend that time at Waltrip High School serving teachers and students, or teaching girls how to canoe and start a fire in the rain, but I knew if I resigned from this new role, I would be letting down a community I love – and maybe, just maybe, I was placed here, in this time, to make a difference in another way. So I stuck it out and yes, I have been able to use skills learned in other volunteer roles as well as my professional experience in this new role, but moreover, I’ve grown and learned remarkable things. I’ve dearly missed the time spent researching and writing this column, to be sure, but if The Leader can stick it out with me, I’ll be back eventually.
I’m calling on you, neighbors. There are many ways to make a difference in our community and some of those paths do carry a heavy workload, while others are a much, much shorter commitment of just an hour, a day, a week or assisting a couple of hours a week during a sports season. There is something for everyone.
Our enormous community is short on volunteers in almost every organization and those organizations are crying out for help. I can only think of a few area schools with an overabundance of volunteers, and I’m pretty sure they wish they had a few more! Overall, almost all of the civic clubs, most of the schools, nursing homes, faith communities, food pantries and animal shelters/rescue groups need help. Any help. Any time or resources one can share.
One person can mow a neighbor’s lawn. Someone else might paint a wall or a door to brighten a school hallway. You might consider serving refreshments just once at church after the morning service. Another person can simply walk dogs. Yet another might step up to lead or handle the paperwork for a volunteer organization. Others might find they have a knack for event planning or a passion for feeding the homeless. Volunteerism exists on all levels, has many faces and comes in all shapes and sizes.
Jan Rotenberry, an Oak Forest neighbor and active volunteer in HISD for nearly 20 years, shared, “Like many have said before, I received more by volunteering than I ever gave. However, there are so many things in our community, city and country that need the help of volunteers. If everyone could give just a little, the impact could be so big. Sometimes it’s a child that needs to know people care. Sometimes it’s an elder in our neighborhood that needs to know they still matter and have wisdom to share. I’ve never known anyone who volunteered their time and effort who regretted it.”
Aesop’s quote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” and Aristotle’s, “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good,” both, to me, are the very heart of volunteerism.
Whether you pick up trash, serve food, simply offer to have copies made for your child’s teacher, take a group of giggling tweens to camp, pull weeds in a community garden, spend your lunch hour doing cafeteria duty at your neighborhood school, spend time listening to sweet stories of the elderly or simply holding a soft hand, or donate a truckload of furniture to a devastated family, you are making a difference. You are a part of making the world go round with just your smile and a little bit of effort.
An unstoppable and devoted volunteer in Mangum Manor, Jessi Heiner, said it best: “Successful volunteering can accomplish amazing things! I have met some of my very best friends through volunteering. People that I would have never met otherwise. These are friendships I will treasure forever. Volunteering is simply a life-changer. Even if it’s only one hour per month. It’s amazing what joy volunteering can bring to one’s life.”
Go out and make a difference, neighbors!