Matters of Life & Beth – The Value of Volunteering
“Doing something for nothing” is a phrase I once heard describing volunteering. I’d never thought much about it until I began volunteering myself, and then realized that “nothing” is actually very much something. By that I mean that the unquantifiable rewards that come from acting selflessly are rather significant.
My first stop as a volunteer was with the People’s Pantry in North Andover. In the good company of a team of volunteers, I help distribute grocery items to people in need. On my first day with the pantry, I felt a true sense of accomplishment because I was giving back to my community and fulfilling a civic responsibility. Working at the pantry, engaging with the guests and wishing them well brought the local hunger situation to life for me. I was helping to make a difference.
I thought about the times I had made charitable donations and noted how contributing actively to a cause produced a very different feeling than simply writing a check. Now, four years later, I gladly continue to give my time.
Soon after beginning my work at the pantry, I was given the opportunity to help build a website for Everyone’s A Player (EAP), a volunteer-run nonprofit based in North Andover that helps athletes overcome financial challenges in order to participate in youth sports. I was proud to contribute to a program that I believed in, and found the unwavering commitment of the EAP founders to be contagious.
At a time when schedules are busier than ever, you might wonder what drives such altruism. In many cases, it’s personal.
“After becoming a mother and witnessing how sports affected my children in such a positive way, my heart went out to those who weren’t able to participate because of financial means,” says Tracy Sportelli, one of the founders of Everyone’s A Player. “Every child deserves to take part in athletic endeavors. All of the EAP co-founders felt strongly that we should do something to help level the playing field — even if it’s one child at a time.”
Whether you volunteer in your children’s classroom, at an animal shelter, a soup kitchen or a senior living facility, the impact is far-reaching. And volunteering is for everyone, no matter your skills, financial status or where you live.
“The generosity that you see in the inner cities of Lowell and Lawrence is no different than that of the people in Westford or Concord,” says Dan Bush, national executive director for the Jericho Road Project, a nonprofit based in Concord, Mass. that helps other nonprofits improve what they do. “People are very generous. With our volunteers, we can change the world.”
Before you commit to a volunteer venture you should ask yourself some important questions:
What matters to me? You will get the most out of your volunteer experience if it is something you believe in or are passionate about.
What can I realistically manage? Don’t overcommit. If you do, you will undoubtedly walk away from your volunteer position before you’ve gotten the most out of it.
Do I have an ulterior motive? If you do, that’s OK. Skill development, networking, social connections and boosting your college application are all valid reasons to volunteer. In fact, long-standing volunteerism with a singular program has become an important distinguishing factor in college admissions.
Volunteering is good for many reasons. You might be surprised to learn that certain health benefits are associated with volunteering, including reduced stress, lower blood pressure, decreased rates of depression, and diminished levels of chronic pain.
If you’re worried that you don’t have the energy for volunteer work, Bush offers encouragement by suggesting “it’s the best tired” that you’ll ever be.
Beth Daigle is the editor of Merrimack Valley Home magazine and is currently working on her first book. Visit her new blog at 3OlivesandaTwist.com.