For most of my life I have been a consummate volunteer. As a young girl I organized school events to raise money for those in need. My involvement has ranged from political action to religion to the environment to the vulnerable. Part of this stems from my belief that society thrives and maintains its democratic structure the more involved we are, and part is because I find that I benefit so much. There is satisfaction in joining a group when it is just forming and helping it to grow and flourish. Getting to know the residents at a Long Term Care facility helps me see them as individuals with fascinating life stories and teaches me about not having preconceptions. And anyone who has ever worked on a winning election campaign, knows the joys of hard work paying off (or the lessons learned from loss).
When asked why I do so much volunteer work, I point to my parents, and the values that were part of my family. Both my parents did volunteer work. I grew up with the idea that giving back is just something you do, like brushing your teeth or going to school each day. It was never seen as duty or even as a responsibility. As a member of a family, you helped out without the promise of compensation, because that’s what a family was. As a member of society, you helped out without the promise of compensation, because that’s what society was.
Children learn so much more by the actions of their parents rather than what their parents say. These actions develop healthy habits.
In his classic work, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote “It is at this time of year that want is most keenly felt”, and it is often during the holiday season that our thoughts turn to volunteering and we reach out. Good works should continue throughout the year. There is no shortage of ways to get involved. You can sit on your children’s school council or help organize the annual spring fun fair. You can volunteer at the Food Bank or visit a lonely senior. Join in a charity run or walk, or march in a protest rally for a cause you believe in. Foster a dog or cat and invite a stranger over for a holiday dinner.
Plenty has been written about how giving back helps us feel better about ourselves and increases our gratitude. We have so much in our lives that it behooves us to give to others. If you have children, think about the type of people you would like them to become, and then be that person yourself. As for us, we should be generous, non-judgemental and grateful for what we have.