It’s that time of year again. Time to honor the main purpose of Well-Met – Volunteering. For more than two decades, Points of Light has equipped nonprofit organizations to celebrate National Volunteer Week, providing visibility, thematic focus and resources to enable them to commemorate this signature week of volunteer recognition. National Volunteer Week for 2012 is April 15 – 21.
Last year I did an introduction piece, as well as individual posts on each of five main types of volunteering I have identified:
I recommend reading those pieces to get a better picture of each area of need.
So, what is my deal with volunteering anyway? Well, first off, like many of you, my income is modest at best, and I find that my time is more valuable than the portion of my income I can devote to donating to organizations in need. In addition, many of my interests are local and immediate, and I find that getting hands on with the causes I hold dear means much more than giving money here and there, more to me and likely more to the organizations and causes themselves.
We can so easily devalue our time and talents, things that can be far more important to a small, local, focused cause than money compared to large organizations with their drives, telethons, walks and runs, and so on.
Let me give you an example. This weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time, about three hours, volunteering at a local dog park. As part of the Milwaukee County Park system, dog park are both amazing sources of recreation (having won the Gold Medal award for excellence in park and recreation management in 2009) and sites in need of public support ($2 million less than it was in the mid-80’s and about half in comparison accounting for inflation). As co-founder and president of Residents for Off-leash Milwaukee Parks (ROMP) I have been part of the establishment of four new parks and the ongoing care of them (such as planting five trees as one park). Each Spring the parks can get muddy from the combination of wear and tear and the annual thaw, so a user at one park organized a day to spread wood chips. I went to represent ROMP and help care for one of our parks. Over a dozen, maybe close to twenty, people showed up to spread chips. In three hours we managed to do a 2″ or more spread over 1/3 of the trails in a 6 acre park, in the areas most in need. Just three hours of my day, alongside men, women, and even a few children, and we managed to cover the neediest trails and make it nice for us and others.
Opportunities like this exist for anyone and everyone to get involved. There is likely something you can find a passion for with work that one of your many talents (don’t sell yourself short) can provide help, help directly on the need rather than paying $100 for shmancy dinner to pay someone else to do it. You like to ride a bike – help make sure the trails are safe for you and others. You take your child several times a year to the Zoo or museum, see if they need any help to keep things going (besides your money) and may even get benefits out of it (such as these at Discovery World). The possibilities are endless.
Sure, there are things that need money – facilities need to be bought/leased and maintenance done, research needs to be paid for, supplies like medicine need to be provided for those that can’t pay themselves – and I encourage you to support those needs. But there are also things that need to be done by hands, minds, and hearts that require nothing of you but time.
So this week, take a little of that precious time and explore the five areas of volunteering above, maybe one will spark an interest (a disease that affects a family member or friend, arts and companions that inspire you, and so on). If it does, I encourage you to find a group that might need your help. You may be surprised at how many opportunities there are for you to apply your talents to help out, with minimal time and effort – I won’t.