If my life were a sheet of paper, you could spot it from across the room-- no white space, lots of writing, multicolored reminders and doodles in the margins, dogeared corners...but not a hint of white space. I have a habit of overfilling my life.
A couple of years ago I signed up for day-long volunteer job. At the time I was raising two teenagers, caring for my mother in her final years of life, and working a job that is decidedly not 9-5. My husband tried to inject common sense into my decisions as he asked, “You complain you don't have time to finish all you need to do, why in the world are you taking on one more volunteer commitment?” I told him to join me for the day and find out. To his credit he did. We spent the day tearing out carpet and testing the electrical circuits in a mobile home being refurbished for EOC's House to Home program. The renovated unit would help one formerly homeless person attain a dream of home ownership. As the day ended he said, “Now I understand why you volunteer.” For me it's important that some of the busy-ness on the page of my life is about helping others... that grounds me. While I used to have long-term volunteer commitments, these days I find giving a day here and there is the best way for me to work community service into my schedule. If one of your goals for 2011 is to make an impact in your community here's some suggestions to get you started:
Donate blood. For an commitment of less than an hour, you can save a life. That's a grand return on a 60 minute investment of time. For the record, of all the places I've donated, the Shenendehowa Adult Community Center had the best post-donation conversations with their volunteers... and home-baked cookies too!
Volunteer with a friend. Find an activity you both enjoy or a cause you care about and do it together. Relay for Life gives lots of opportunities to catch up with friends while also remembering lost loved ones or cheering as those who have courageously battled cancer, from children to silver-haired seniors, walk the survivors' lap. My son's friend, Trish, has been doing the Relay every year for the past 9 years in memory of Mrs. Weisman, a Shenendehowa 5th grade teacher. Trish's personal tribute to a mentor through participation in the Relay has inspired dozens of other friends to join her in raising much-needed funds and awareness to save lives from cancer.
Make it a family event. When you include your children in your volunteer activities, you aren't only instilling a value of community involvement but also creating wonderful moments of bonding around activities that are out of the ordinary. My youngest son and I laugh whenever we see our lime green Rebuilding Together tee shirts and remember the day we got them. Hours later they were totally covered with pine pitch from installing rustic sawmill pine siding on a home for a family with a seriously disabled 4 year old and a father who was injured and out of work. We also recall the joy we felt as the family told us their son's medical tests had just returned with the unexpected positive news that he was not going to be confined to a wheelchair. They shared the news because the crew no longer needed to build a wheelchair ramp that day. I could talk to my kids about being grateful for what we have, but helping others and seeing the challenges they face brought that lesson home far better than any Mom lecture. (Here's one of my rare housekeeping tips: Lestoil is terrific for removing pine pitch. I thought we'd have to throw away the shirts, but a soak in Lestoil and they were like new, so now we have the shirts that preserve that day's memory.)
Help a senior. Care Links volunteers help to keep people living independently in their homes as long as possible by visiting, buying groceries, or transporting someone to a medical appointment. Just a couple of hours of your time will bring a friendship that touches your heart. For more information call Care Links at CHS 518-399-4624 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schedule it. My eldest son says having a regular day and time for volunteering is the best way to incorporate good works into your life. Pick what makes you happy. Like animals? Volunteer at the Saratoga County animal shelter as a dog walker, or in their Clifton Park location caring for the cats & kittens waiting to be adopted.
Go to your recycling bin and pick out a glass jar. Each night empty the loose change (or even the occasional dollar bill) from your pockets or purse into the jar. When it's full, donate the money to a charity. It's surprising how fast it adds up. (Check out Betsy DeMars' December 24th Media Moms blog for her account of how, with a not-so-gentle nudge from God, her coin jar blessed one man this Christmas.) http://2mediamoms.blogspot.com/2010/12/its-not-just-change-in-jar.html
Multitask- help a charity while reconnecting with friends. At DVRC we have several generous donors who host a party as a fundraiser to support our victim service programs. Friends are invited to the party and invited to give a donation to this charity that their host/hostess cares deeply about. One kind donor said at first she was a little apprehensive when she asked friends to a fundraising party, but everyone had a terrific time and many friends called the following morning to thank her for giving them the opportunity to help a local charity. I know of another group of women who opt for a potluck dinner at someone's home instead going out as a group. The money they saved on the fancy restaurant meal is donated to the hostess' chosen charity. Busy lives call for creative solutions!
Looking for social and networking opportunities as well as community investment? Join a service organization...These groups connect you with other people of similar interests and offer myriad opportunities to make a difference. Interested in helping women and girls? Check out Soroptimist International of Saratoga County. No it's not a sorority-- Soroptimist means Best for Women and that's what this group is all about. http://www.soroptimistsaratoga.org//
Check out the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce's Volunteer JobZone to find hundreds of other ways to make a difference in our community. http://www.saratoga.org/jobs/jobzone-volunteer-index.asp