This past weekend, more than 500 volunteers worked together (often in the rain) to bring Denver’s largest celebration of LGBT pride to life. Most of these folks worked nonstop throughout the weekend and for their efforts they received a t-shirt and a couple of meals. As an employee of the organization that hosts PrideFest, I had the pleasure of being the official “weather spotter” for the festival. From my desk 2,200 miles away, I monitored the NWS for any severe weather alerts and passed those along through Google Hangouts. From the pictures and comments coming across Hangouts over the weekend, I’d say everyone had a phenomenal time and would probably volunteer to do it all over again next year.
On the topic of volunteer work…a certain family member and I have had an ongoing debate for years over the merits of doing something just because you want to versus doing it because you expect to be paid. She’s a capitalist through and through and while she can see the advantages of volunteer work, she sees it mainly from the organization’s perspective – free labor = low overhead. Her favorite expressions might include: how can you make any money if you give things away? and I wouldn’t do that if you paid me! God love her, this is the same family member who once asked: why would anyone want to write a book if it wasn’t going to be a bestseller?
Doing good for the sake of doing good, that’s what volunteer work is about. It’s not about money. Whether you are volunteering with an established organization or creating your own volunteer experiences (like picking up garbage while you’re out for a walk or cutting your elderly neighbor’s lawn), the benefits, without a doubt, go far beyond what you might imagine. Your self-esteem will rise. You will make someone else’s day brighter. You will make your community and the world a better place to live. You may even learn something new or have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something you’ve always dreamed of.
I’ve been a volunteer somewhere most of my adult life. The experiences that I’ve had would never have been available to me if I waited until I was paid to do them. In fact, a lifetime is not even long enough to acquire the amount of education and training required to get paid to do some of the things I’ve been fortunate enough to do simply by showing up.
I’ll never be a lawyer, but once I volunteered as an actor in a mock trial.
I’ll never be a doctor, but my time with the Red Cross taught me how to help my community in a disaster.
I’ll never be a marine biologist, but a summer of sea turtle patrol gave me the chance to witness firsthand the life of one of the sea’s most amazing creatures.
I can’t go back in time to visit the 1800s, but my year at a pioneer museum taught me to value the simpler ways of life.
I can’t singlehandedly end global food waste but manning the compost and recycling station at VegFest gave me the chance educate others on why it’s so important.
And I wouldn’t have the job I have today, if I hadn’t first volunteered to do something as simple as answer the phone.
I probably won’t ever win the debate with my family member. It’s hard to convince someone to see things differently when they are wearing the same worn out glasses every day. And that’s okay, I still love her anyway, and am grateful for the lessons that our spirited discussions have taught me. Namely that she is right about one thing – when it comes to doing good things for others and my community, I wouldn’t do it if you paid me! I will; however, gladly do it for free.
If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities near you, visit www.volunteermatch.org.
Already a volunteer? What are some of your most memorable volunteer experiences?
**Angie has been right along with me on most of the volunteer gigs listed above. That’s her in the cover photo, collecting marine samples with Florida Fish & Wildlife. She asked that I add in that she feels the same as I do when it comes to volunteering and even though it was a pain to get up at 4 AM, doing sea turtle patrol was by far the highlight of her volunteer resume (so far). This summer, we are volunteering with Society of St. Andrew to glean the Nashville Farmer’s Market. We take unsold produce that would have gone to waste and donate it to local nonprofits, like the Nashville Rescue Mission. It’s a rewarding experience and one that we would probably never have known about if we weren’t for our 2018 Food Waste Project.