“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time: they have the heart.”
Today is our Volunteer Appreciation Day! What a privilege it is to honor them! Oftentimes we don’t realize the importance of something until it’s gone. That’s the way it is with volunteers.
Every healthy community has an army of frequently unacknowledged, unseen volunteers often silently working behind the scenes. A healthy society is made up of individuals who are involved in their community and take personal responsibility and investment seriously. Volunteers and those who willingly invest their time and talent are essential to a healthy culture. Some of our greatest heroes from history understood this.
Though known primarily for his role as one of our country’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was instrumental in creating the very first volunteer fire department. You’ve likely heard his famous quote, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” it was Franklin who brought together a group of thirty men in 1736 to form the Union Fire Company to prevent massive fires in Philadelphia.
Though more famous as an internationally known author and mystery writer (she authored 72 books), Agatha Christie, became a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay when her husband, Archie, was fighting in World War I. From 1914 to 1917 she worked as a volunteer nurse and then dispensed medicines for the hospital for another year.
While most famous for being an astronaut and the first American woman in space in 1983, Sally Ride, was a role model to innumerable young girls. On top of that, she was a huge supporter of the Girl Scouts and co-founded the Girl Scouts’ Camp CEO, which paired minority girls with professional women. She even founded her own organization, Sally Ride Science.
Known best for his role as “Superman,” Christopher Reeve, became a super volunteer. After an accident left him paralyzed, the late actor became an advocate for those suffering from spinal cord injuries. He acted as Chairman of the American Paralysis Association and was Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability. He co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center and created the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, a foundation that funds research to develop treatments and cures for paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries and works to improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities. Christopher Reeve turned a terrible tragedy into an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Where some would recluse themselves wallowing in self-pity, he used his tragedy to invest in a greater good, demonstrating that even disability isn’t an excuse to fail to make a difference in the lives of others.
What does it take to volunteer and to make a difference? The most needed trait is selflessness. It’s what volunteering is all about. Giving of yourself, your time and talent to a cause you believe in in order to help others in the process. The whole experience can be both very rewarding and addictive! A little selflessness goes a long way. You’ll often find that you get much more out of it than what you put into it.
Volunteers live longer, are happier and healthier than non-volunteers. Studies show that those who volunteer remain physically functional longer, have more robust psychological well-being, and even live longer. Making volunteering part of your lifestyle doesn’t have to be delayed until you retire. The elderly who volunteer are almost always those who volunteered earlier in life. Health and longevity gains from volunteering come from establishing meaningful volunteer roles long before you retire and continuing to volunteer once you arrive in your retirement years.
Volunteering is more often taught than caught. No one needs to be taught to be selfish. It comes all too naturally. Adults who love to volunteer were frequently taught to volunteer by their parents or some other mentor. Even a young child can volunteer and thrive as a volunteer. It’s important for the spiritual and emotional health of your child’s future to make volunteering a family affair. According to Jeannie Fino, an early childhood consultant with The Guidance Center of Westchester, NY, children have “a natural tendency to enjoy giving to others, which starts with empathy and compassion.” As parents, Fino says, it’s up to us to foster these feelings, to “provide opportunities for kids to give to others and to be grateful for what’s been given to them.” Serving others widens our worldview and increases our own sense of gratitude.
Volunteering strengthens our relationships. It focuses us on something greater than ourselves strengthening our relationships. It’s no accident that as the percentage of those volunteering decreases, loneliness and depression increase. Working alongside others who feel as strongly as we do about a particular cause creates strong relationships with them. It’s not just for making new friendships. volunteering alongside those in your own family strengthens family bonds based in “doing” your values together.
Should Christians volunteer outside the church? Absolutely! Yes, our first responsibility is our spiritual family (Gal. 6:10), yet we’re commanded to be salt and light in our world (Matt. 5:13-16). How can we be salt in our world if the salt stays in the saltshaker? How can we be light if we fail to shine outside the church walls? Please serve in your church family and find a place where you can make a difference in our community. God has designed us to serve others. Please find a place to volunteer and serve!
Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.