Occasionally, while I am out in my garden working, I will notice I have a ‘volunteer’. What this means is at some point, a plant from last year dropped a seed or two in the ground. The next year, that seed sprouts. I then have an ‘extra’ plant I didn’t count on having.
This means I have the benefit of extra food to feed my family. Anything we don’t use is shared with others. And an excess may also mean more value-added products to sell. No matter how you look at it, having a volunteer is a win/win situation.
People as Volunteers
Just like plants, people can easily become a volunteer. In fact, many communities depend on those who give their time and services to keep them functioning and healthy.
The most recognized situation for communities in need are after a natural disaster or destructive storm. In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina unleashed her wrath, leaving behind a death toll of over 1,800 people from Louisiana, Mississippi and the Bahamas.
Untold numbers were left homeless in New Orleans, and other areas of South Louisiana. Those who were evacuated left everything they knew and loved behind. They were taken to North Louisiana, as well as to other shelters in Texas and other states.
But it isn’t just disasters that require volunteers. Some volunteer positions can be as simple as reading to children at the Library. Collecting donations. Community-oriented groups may need help stuffing envelopes. The Red Cross, United Way and Salvation Army depend on volunteers to help reach those in need.
The Benefits of Volunteering
The number of benefits for becoming a volunteer is amazing. What most don’t realize is being a volunteer isn’t just a blessing to others. It is also a gift you can give yourself.
Helping others provides a service they cannot do on their own. It offers them relief from time, financial, and problematic situations. Here are some ways you can help others within your own community:
These organizations need all the help they can get. What few monetary donations they receive goes to the purchase of food, paying rent and utilities. Although some get financial help through grants, most depend heavily on donations. This means there isn’t enough left over to pay for employees.
A few ways volunteers help in a soup kitchen is to chop and prepare food for cooking, washing dishes, serving food and cleaning up. However, the most needed way a volunteer can help is through kindness, a friendly smile, encouragement and a listening ear.
Who knows? Something you hear may trigger an idea or thought. With that idea, you may be the one with an idea to help get one person or family off the streets.
Keep in mind, it is wonderful if you choose to help during holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. But Soup Kitchens usually run 24/7/365. Any and every day you can lend them a helping hand will be more than appreciated.
Feed the Hungry
As an individual, we may not be able to feed the world. But you can feed another individual or a family. Especially if you are a gardener.
Find a way to determine those in your area who need a helping hand. It can be a neighbor who has lost a job, or a young couple with children who are struggling to make ends meet.
If you are a gardener, share some of that extra produce with them. Toss a loaf of fresh baked bread, a jar of jam and a bag of cookies into the box. Just this small amount may feed their family for a day or two. By doing so, you relieve a small bit from their already over-stretched budget.
Donate goods and services to your local Food Bank. This type of organization has ways of reaching further into the community. Depending on the Food Bank, paper goods, cleaning supplies and hygiene products may also be needed.
Build a Home
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that builds homes for the homeless. In some cases, established houses are donated, and the HFH group comes in to make any necessary repairs – both structural and cosmetic.
I love their Slogan – “We build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter”. Just having a roof over your head helps to build all three, as well as offers a sense of encouragement for a brighter future.
Volunteers for HFH don’t have to have a Contractor’s License. If you can swing a hammer, wield a paintbrush, plant a flowerbed or just are great at cleaning up, they can certainly use your help.
Be a Kid Again
There are many after-school programs and summer camps for kids who would love your volunteer services. You not only have a means to help the youth in your community, but you can also set a positive example for them to follow.
Different programs and camps focus on different activities. These can range from art, sports, nature and science, to name a few. Determine your strengths, and find a program or camp you feel would benefit from your skills and knowledge.
Don’t forget the Animals
There are many organizations that are animal—focused who can use your help. Shelters are the number one organizations who use volunteers. It may mean offering simple services such as walking, bathing, feeding or cleaning out kennels.
During a time of storms or disasters, many animals are displaced from their homes. Found pets are brought to a temporary shelter and cared for until the owners can be found, or they can be placed in another forever home.
And don’t forget your elderly or shut-in neighbors. If they have pets, they may be able to use your help in caring for their four-legged friends.
Serving in Small Ways
You don’t have to ‘go big or go home’ to be a volunteer. And you don’t have to commit every free moment you have. There are other ways you can serve your community as time allows.
If you have elderly people in your area, offer to mow their grass or rake leaves in the fall. If minor repairs are needed, such as a loose step or one that needs replacing, grab your hammer.
Libraries often need a volunteer to do a summer reading program for children. Some of the smaller libraries may just need occasional help shelving books.
My mom is an Adult Literacy tutor. She teaches adults how to read. By doing so, many of her students have gotten a drivers’ license for the first time, and others have been able to ‘move up the ladder’ a bit with their employment.
When you become a volunteer, you begin to see a change in yourself. Helping others in need can help you to learn to better appreciate your own life. With this, comes a sense of contentment.
Volunteering also helps to relieve depression. Being around others can help build a ‘wall’, so to speak, between you and depression, though a strong support system. This wall also helps to work against stress and anxiety.
Some volunteer jobs also mean physical labor. In the process, your body grows stronger and healthier. In turn, it helps your mental health by increasing blood flow and reducing stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. It also helps to improve your self-esteem and self-confidence.
When you step into a situation where people are in need, it can’t help but open your heart. You learn empathy, compassion and understanding. You are able to exercise your Grace and Mercy muscles. If this world needs anything, it needs hearts that are overflowing with those five things.
If anything, to stand back and see the fruits of your labor will lift your very heart and soul. To know you have been a part of improving a community, putting a smile on a neighbor’s face, or feeding a hungry body and soul, is what love is all about.
Every community needs a pair of helping hands. Whether helping aa neighbor or a stranger, by giving of yourself you receive so much more than what you gave.
Take a moment to look around and see how you can become a volunteer. If you still aren’t sure, contact VolunteerMatch.com. They may be able to point you in the right direction.