It's a great time of year to be thinking about reaching out and connecting with others. In last week's blog, I shared some ideas for how you can do this with a gift of your belongings. Another way to give back is to consider donating your time.
There are many benefits to volunteering, and not just for the receiver. Volunteering reduces stress, connects us to others, gives us a higher sense of purpose, builds self confidence, and increases our physical and mental health.
Once you have made the decision to volunteer, there are two things you need to consider; your time and your talents/interests.
It is important to know how many hours you can participate in any given period of time, especially during the holidays. Be very honest with yourself...initially, it is more important that you under-commit your time. If you overextend yourself, you may begin to feel pressured to volunteer, and that is NOT a good thing. You can always increase your commitment to an organization, and when you do, it makes everyone happy.
Take a minute to think about your talents and interests. If you are good at cooking, communicating, or sewing, for example, start to steer yourself in that direction. Don't underestimate yourself. You have gifts that others don't have, and when you share them, everyone grows. When you commit to volunteer in an area where you lack interest, it is more evident than you think to those around you. Don't do it.
My Grandma and Grandpa "Mac" did a lot of volunteering. They both loved interacting with people, and were involved in a lot of organizations. One of my Grandpa Mac's favorite things to do was to play his harmonica to the babies in the hospital. There was a beautiful write-up about it in the LaCrosse Tribune many, many years ago. He loved playing the harmonica and he loved babies, so he reached out to local hospitals, and pretty soon he was volunteering weekly. The nurses loved him, and even though the babies, well into their 30's now, don't remember it, those comforting sounds and love made a difference in their development.
By taking these two factors into consideration, you are making sure your volunteer activity is a good match. Here is an example of a "bad match": volunteering to pet cats at a rescue organization to "put in the hours," when you hate fur on your clothes, and are doing it on a night when you have work deadlines. You will end up resenting the time you spend there, the other people involved will surely notice, and you are unlikely to continue. Don't be afraid to try something new, but make sure you reassess along the way. Be honest with yourself, then try something else. There's no harm in changing directions, but an unenthusiastic volunteer can actually be an emotional liability for everyone involved.
If you are still looking for ideas, here is a list of possibilities you might want to look into:
*Ring the Salvation Army bell (here).
*Sign up for a shift at the Warming Center (here).
*Find a local blood drive, and assist or give (here).
*Get involved with local children by helping the Boys & Girls Club (here).
*Work with critters at the Coulee Region Humane Society (here).
*Clean up trash on local roadways by participating in the Adopt-A-Highway
*Assist with the Hunger Task Force (here).
*Be a Brother or Sister (here).
*Help with our local food pantry, Wafer (here).
*Join a local community choir if you like to sing.
*Community dinners need people to cook, serve, or clean up (here).
*If you love books, ask your local library if they need volunteers to re-shelf books, or have other needs.
*This time of year, go caroling! It brightens everyone's spirits!
*Ask your local school if you can read aloud to children, help prepare any classroom displays, even teach a mini-lesson.
*Shovel your neighbor's driveway or sidewalk the next time it snows.
*Allow another driver to merge or turn ahead of you, instead of rushing to go first.
*Hold the door open for someone.
*Allow a stranger to go ahead of you in a checkout line.
Some of these may seem small, even trivial, but little things add up, and when you get a smile or thank you in return, it makes it all worth it. I hear it time and time again from people who volunteer..."I get WAY more out of volunteering than I've ever given up."
Consider how YOU can make a difference by giving of your time this holiday season. May it be a joyous one!