Every April we celebrate National Volunteer Week in recognition of the thousands of people who are giving back to their communities and reaching out to help those who might be in need. Initially conceived by Points of Light Foundation, this week is about inspiring, recognizing, and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. I hope to contribute to the inspiration and celebration that is taking place this week.
During this one week and throughout the month of April, hundreds of companies and literally thousands of employees put aside their daily jobs and get into the community to “do good things.” The miracle is that volunteering doesn’t only occur during April or National Volunteer Week, it is happening 365 days each year. While we call attention to volunteering in April, it is the countless acts of service, often going unnoticed, that makes volunteering the powerhouse that is doing good in our communities every day. There are thousands of unsung heroes working throughout the year to make a difference. Comedian Erma Bombeck said it best when she wrote,“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”
It is estimated that more than 62 million people in the United States volunteered in 2015. While the number is down slightly from 2014, the truth is volunteering is part of the American culture. With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer but as Elizabeth Andrews has said, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”
The whole idea behind volunteering is to bring some moments of happiness into someone else’s life without asking for anything in return. Yet, volunteers agree that their work is always rewarded.
“Be of service. Whether you make yourself available to a friend or co-worker, or you make time every month to do volunteer work, there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than being of service to someone in need,” said Gillian Anderson.
Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Research also shows that people who volunteer often live longer.
“You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you,” writes an unnamed source.
Anyone can volunteer. Martin Luther King said it this way, “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve…You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
My personal favorite volunteer quote comes from Winston Churchill who said, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
Albert Schweitzer talks about our responsibility to volunteer. He says,“Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in the world all of your own.”
As Aesop has said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Rather than be pessimistic because the number of volunteers is down from previous years, I would rather be optimistic and celebrate all the good that is being done by volunteers around the globe. Collectively, we are an army that is making a difference one person or one project at a time. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”
Let’s celebrate before we go to our next volunteer project.