- Why did you begin volunteering
- What impact do you feel your volunteer work has on your life?
- What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
- What would you say to encourage others who are considering volunteering?
(questions submitted by Jerod of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts as part of their celebration of National Volunteer Month)
When we first began designing the program for Stoneleigh-Burnham’s new middle school program, one of the first things I knew was that we needed to make time for students to go out and connect with their community. Service work seemed the best way to go about that, and so we agreed that I would sit down with the founding students quite early in the fall and take their ideas for what an off-campus service program might look like. The two most popular ideas that came out of that brainstorming session, helping with the after-school program at Federal Street School (where one of the Founders’ mothers taught) and working with Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society (back before the merger), continue to be among the sites where we serve. As the numbers of students grew over the years, we were delighted to be able to add additional sites, including the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Poet’s Seat Health Care Center.
I had always felt that volunteering was an important way to give of yourself and live your beliefs, to walk the talk as it were. So alongside my delight in seeing the service program come to life in the middle school and all the rewards it was bringing my students, I found personal reward in feeling that I was finally at least a small part of some of the excellent and important work being done in our area.
Volunteering, then, has impacted my life in two main ways. First, by supporting my students. Whether I see them selflessly throwing themselves into whatever needs to be done, or struggling to overcome initial hesitation before finally taking the plunge, they inspire me with their ability to ultimately focus on the needs of others and, without turning their work into a martyrdom and keeping a sense of fun, quietly step up and get the job done. Second, by connecting me to the people, mission and work of the sites where I work, Dakin and the Food Bank. When I see friends posting appeals to get involved in saving animals’ lives and finding them homes, when I think of the deep need in our region to support people trying to keep themselves and their families adequately fed, I know I’m already part of that work. I’m more aware of the complexity of the work, the issues involved, why these organizations are taking certain approaches to solving those issues. I can bring that awareness and knowledge with me out into the world. Those are the kinds of impacts that make the work easy to do and easy to enjoy, seeing my students at their best, knowing how valuable the work of which we’re a part really is.
Sometimes, whether in person or on Facebook, friends and family members will wonder whether they might step up and do some volunteering of their own. I always encourage them to do so. If they’ve expressed specific concerns, I can acknowledge them and explain how I deal with them, and of course I can speak and write about what I’ve gotten out of my own experience. That feeling that you are no longer on the sidelines, that you are actually out there trying to make a positive difference in the world, is one of the best reasons in the world to volunteer.