One Person at a Time

written by JO BRADLEY

Each April, we celebrate National Volunteer Month and the dedicated volunteers who freely give their time, talents, and treasures. Why would someone want to take the time to work and not get paid for it? The 2000 National Survey on Giving, Volunteering, and Participating reports that:

  • 79 percent of respondents felt volunteering helped with their interpersonal skills, such as understanding people better, motivating others, and dealing with difficult situations.
  • 68 percent said it helped develop better communication skills.
  • 49 percent developed skills they could apply directly to their job.

Volunteer recipients also reap real benefits. A study about hospice volunteers at University of California in 2005 by Kathryn Herbst-Damm and James Kulik revealed that hospice patients who had a regular volunteer visitor who was trained to listen, provide conversation, meet simple grooming needs, and read to the patient lived a surprising average of 80 days longer than patients of similar condition who had no volunteer visitor. A direct effect for the patient was an improved sense of well being. An   indirect effect for the caregiver was a sense of relief from caregiving duty.

Just as random acts of kindness can make a difference in people's lives, so can planned ones. There are many opportunities to help others. You can help an older friend with grocery shopping, take a child of a single parent to the zoo, visit with someone who has lost their spouse, or mow a neighbor's yard. Maybe you could volunteer at a church, a local state park, nursing home, hospice, hospital, school, crisis center, soup kitchen, or a food bank. Organizations like the American Red Cross, Alzheimer's Association, or Kidney Foundation also rely on volunteers. Perhaps you could join a neighborhood association or a Veteran's or civic group. You can work for a political party organization, Habitat for Humanity, or local nature center. The adventurous volunteer could host a foreign exchange student, participate in disaster relief, or go on a mission trip. For added excitement, you could even volunteer for a reality TV show.

I think the point of volunteering is to get involved with other people and be a part of something that is bigger than yourself. Being useful and productive can bring confidence and a rewarding sense of purpose and achievement as we give of ourselves for the benefit of others. It's a way for us to be part of a solution rather than part of a problem - one person at a time. d