My sister Deryn was telling me about a little 11-year old girl she saw on Good Morning America this morning that had set up a little station outside her family’s place in New Jersey where people could come and “borrow” electricity. Be it cell phones, laptops, video games for kids, they were welcome to come and wait for them to charge. While they waited, they served them refreshments. My sister said the parents were supportively sitting in the background during the interview (and obviously endorsed her efforts), but it appeared to be the idea and work of this little girl that started it all.
She’s already learned some valuable life lessons….how to share her stuff, how to give to the less fortunate, how to inconvenience her life for that of others, how to notice needs and figure out a way to meet those needs, how to bring joy to others and how easy it is to trump adults!
A lot of my friends are givers. Almost any charitable event that goes on in our city, usually I have a friend or two involved. Yes, we live in a fairly small city, but it’s more than that. A lot of my friends I met through volunteering. Funny thing, people who believe in volunteering usually volunteer for more than one cause. So those of us who do see each other a lot. The thing that is not so funny is that many people never volunteer at all.
Yes, I have heard the excuses.
“I have a busy life.” So do most people who volunteer. The busier, usually the better! While some volunteer opportunities require a time commitment of sorts, others just require a one time commitment. A few hours to give? They’ll take it. Any smart organization that uses volunteers learns how to use whatever is offered!
“I used to volunteer, but no one appreciated it.” You can’t do it for the appreciation. You’re right…often people don’t appreciate it or forget to acknowledge your participation. Do it because you believe in what you are doing and know it is the right thing to do. Mentally prepare yourself for never receiving any appreciation (from others involved, or from the recipients.) It’s the ultimate gift giving experience….no appreciation or thanks needed or expected. The reward of knowing what you have done? Could be amazing!
“I am all volunteered out.” No really, you’re not! Most of us who volunteer have times when we don’t know how we will muster another breath and keep going, but you really can. Sometimes you do need a break, but often if you take too long a break your brain starts playing tricks on you and you feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing anything ever again. That is an illusion. You may need to do something different or try a new cause, but there is something you can do. And you need to.
“I want to, but I don’t know anyone else who volunteers and can’t get anyone to go with me.” Granted, that first time may have a few awkward moments if you go on your own. There’s no getting around that. But what you will usually find is that people who volunteer or work with volunteers are usually quite friendly. They’ll quickly put you to work and then it gets easier. And if after that first time you still feel awkward, try a new charity. It won’t take long until you find one filled with the best friends you had never met!
“I have young kids and no babysitter.” My guess is that this cool little girl in New Jersey didn’t get that way without some teaching. There are places you can volunteer and even young kids can help. And if they are too young, sometimes there are people (like me) who will be around and love to take a baby holding break! Being around giving people….it’s a good place to raise a child.
“I give money instead.” Money’s good, but it doesn’t let you see the need. If you just toss it in a charity’s direction, you never get to see it at work. And you should see it at work and know you’re putting it in the right place, doing the right things. (But if you refuse to volunteer and want to give blindly, by all means still go ahead and send the money!!! Or hand it to a volunteering friend who is willing to be the feet on the street and make sure it is used well.)
“I don’t really have any talents to contribute.” Wanna make a bet? Whoever you are, whatever you can do, it can be used for some charity. Honestly. It boggles my mind sometimes when I hear how some people serve others. I dare you to come up with something that you can do that I can’t figure out a way how you can use it to help someone!
“I’m not really interested in any charities.” Could it be that your view of what a charity is is a bit limited? There are churches, there are schools, there are political organizations, there are places that shelter the homeless, that feed the hungry, that look after mistreated and abandoned animals, that champion cures for diseases, that help the elderly and orphans and veterans, that protect our environment, that enhance our recreation areas, that teach immigrants how to speak English, that help people learn to budget, that protect battered women and children, that teach people to read and write ….I could go on and on. And within each of these types of organizations there are layers of needs. I challenge you to explore what’s out there and still say you are NOT interested in charities.
“I’m just not the charitable type.” Guess what? There is no type! Everyone is welcome! You don’t have to even be 100% into the idea of it all. Truth is that a lot of the others volunteering aren’t 100% gung ho either. Just do it!
In my life, my faith plays a part in why I give. I believe in acts of thanksgiving for my gift of life and for the great things that I have been blessed with. I believe I should serve God by serving our world. I truly believe the verse in Luke that says “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” And really….we all have so very much just by living in this country. Even those of us who think we are the poor. I’ve worked with homeless people, who spent part of their life serving others. It’s a beautiful sight to see….and these are usually the people who move beyond those circumstances. Even if you are a sometimes recipient of giving (maybe especially if) you should still give yourself.
For those who don’t have a life that is faith based, giving also is of great value to you. It adds a richness that can’t be found any other way. It helps shape your character – shows you the person you want to be, and often the person you don’t want to be. It’s also a way to celebrate life and live it by experiencing both giving and receiving.
On this first day of “Thanksgiving month” I challenge you to find a way you can give and a place you can give. We can say thanks with our mouth or we can say it with all that we are. I personally would prefer if communities would meet the needs of people instead of waiting for government to intervene. It is more effective and way less costly! And that is how our community grows to be the kind of place we are proud to live in, the kind of place where we can depend on others. The place where volunteer opportunities are not all filled by a few, but everyone plays a part.
Though I didn’t see the Good Morning America show my sister saw, I can just picture that little girl. And I know how she is bringing sunshine into some lives that are pretty dark and discouraged right now. Some people will appreciate what she has done for them every day of their life and never forget it, others will promptly forget it, others will think “well of course she should do that since she has something we don’t!” (probably when they would never do it themselves) or “She only did that to be on TV.” There will always be those types of cynics in the world.
Her parents will probably have a tremendous power bill this month, and their family just may have to go without something themselves to budget for the increase this month, but my guess is that they are willing to do whatever it takes. (Knowing people, someone will offer to help offset the cost after hearing about it.) But they didn’t start it looking for anyone to notice but those in need. My guess is that they are all having a blast and are going to know their neighbors like ever before. They are helping their daughter make a difference in the world and learn something new about giving. They are turning problems into solutions and turning frowns and anxiety into smiles. They are experiencing something the cynics of the world will seldom experience – the joy of optimism. Sometimes when you stand up and raise your glass and say “Hey, I can help with that” you find that half full glass gets fuller and fuller and fuller and then overflows. Optimism grows like that.