Thursday, September 19, 2013

What's it mean to volunteer?

Heather and I discuss lots of things in a typical phone call.  We wander over topics from family gossip to television to spirituality to politics and back.  Yesterday, we discussed all of these plus volunteerism.  She had a n interesting idea that volunteering requires alignment with an organization, while I don't think that is necessarily true.  One thing we both agreed on is that the term has come to be tinged with a bureaucratic connotation that makes people feel as though they aren't volunteers when they help out in the world (check out and you'll see volunteer does not mean unpaid labor for a group, government or organization).

I volunteer at school, with the P.T.A. and sometimes with my city. I am typically allied with others, but sometimes, my volunteerism isn't official.  I hold doors, listen to people, grievances, and help them out with a wide variety of things.  As it's unpaid labor, I chalk it up to volunteerism regardless of whether or not it counts towards any official statistic.  Heather has baked for bake sales and assisted with activities for her mother's assisted living facility. This, too, is volunteering.  My husband has fixed cars for free to help desperate people out of binds, and I count it as volunteering as well.  Helping an elderly neighbor carry their groceries, or picking up trash from the gutters counts.  Letting someone know that their tire is low or their gas tank is open is volunteering to make someone's life easier.

Volunteering isn't hard; it's not complicated, and it doesn't require being part of a group.  Volunteering is the act of giving to the greater world with no expectation of monetary payment.  We are all capable of it, and many of us do it on far more regular basis than we admit to ourselves.  There are many ways to be a volunteer, so look at your skills, your strengths and give what you can.  Heather's friend is a hairdresser and would like to help out by giving haircuts to people who are job searching.  One mom at my sons' school loves to plan kid friendly events, so she organized our school's Family Fun Nights.  Take your neighbor's trash can to the street if they struggle with it.  Lend an ear to someone who's lonely.  Knit baby blankets for new families, volunteer at a hospital.  Give a little of whatever you've got, because you are worth sharing with the world.

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