By Regina Reid
“Go for it.” That is what I always tell anyone who is considering volunteering.
Over time I’ve learned the smallest deed can make a profound impact on someone else’s day. In some cases, a person’s struggles are obvious to the eye, but there is so much each one of us carries quietly in our hearts. You just never know how a smile, or taking a minute to ask, “How are you doing today?” can lift someone’s spirits.
When we talk about volunteering, we naturally think about what we can do for others, but we’re also helping ourselves. A study published in 2020 by The Journal of Happiness Studies showed volunteering can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health. In fact, there can be physical benefits too. Another study showed that individuals who volunteer were less likely to develop hypertension over time.
Helping others is my way of paying it forward and expressing gratitude for the blessings in my life. It’s good for the soul and brings me joy.
As an undergraduate, I took a sociology class and was shocked to learn a large number of Americans were just one paycheck away from homelessness. Sadly, that number is still close to 60 percent, according to a 2019 survey by Charles Schwab. This discovery gave me a better understanding of just how vulnerable we all are.
As a native New Yorker, I always took the subway to work early in my career. On a daily basis I saw firsthand individuals who were experiencing poverty. As I got my daughter ready for school each morning, I began making extra helpings of breakfast and would bring it with me to the subway to share. Preparing extra cups of oatmeal became a part of my daily routine.
It made my heart happy to know I was providing a little warmth to someone on those cold winter mornings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that morning tradition also instilled a desire to give back in my daughter as well.
Spreading a spirit of kindness
I’ve always been active within the community through my church and enjoyed helping with different donation drives. About 15 years ago, an opportunity became available through work to help deliver meals to a Ronald McDonald House near my office. I signed up with a few colleagues and we began going each month. All these years later, I am now the site coordinator. It’s a role that I cherish and one that has provided me the pleasure of meeting many wonderful families.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we had to pause delivery as volunteers were not able to go onsite. That monthly visit had been a part of my life for so long and I really missed it. Thankfully, I was able to participate in some virtual community service opportunities to get my volunteer fill. While we aren’t able to personally serve meals to families, we have resumed meal delivery to Ronald McDonald House of Central and Northern New Jersey while adhering to social distancing guidelines. I look forward to the day when I can see the families and their smiling faces again.
I’m at my best when I’m giving back. If you ask anyone one who has ever volunteered, I bet they would say the same. The effects of human kindness are far-reaching. If you are considering volunteering but aren’t sure where to start, consider these ideas:
- Incorporate your passion. Community organizations need help in countless ways. Maybe you love to draw. Consider signing up to create notes to be placed in meal bags for your local soup kitchen. If you are musical, you might consider providing lessons through your local community center over Zoom. Whatever your gift is, there is a way to incorporate that into service.
- Invite someone to join you. Volunteering with others doubles the fun. Currently, most volunteer experiences are virtual, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Signing up for a volunteer activity with colleagues can help strengthen connections, and in some cases even build lifelong friendships. You might also consider involving your children and making it a family event.
- Share your experience. Telling others about your volunteer experiences helps raise awareness for the local community organizations you support. It also might just inspire someone sign up to help who might not have otherwise.
While we intend to help others through volunteering, I guarantee you’ll benefit from the experience too.
Regina Reid is a Provider Partnership Associate for AmeriHealth New Jersey.