Why Volunteer? A First Person Perspective of What It Takes & Why It Counts
By: Myrdin Thompson, Mom Congress Delegate
Yesterday when I checked the mail I received a lovely thank you card from a group that I have been discussing working as a mentor with. Enclosed was a gift card to a local coffee shop and the wording in the card said "thanks a latte!" While I was genuinely appreciative of the gift, I also felt that I hadn't earned it. After all I hadn't officially started volunteering as my paperwork was still being processed. So I contacted the organization and said, thank you, but...and was told, no, thank you. Thank you for being willing to volunteer, for being patient during the background check process, and for supporting the mission and vision by sharing information about what we do with others in the community.
Because you see, volunteering is something so many of us do not because of the coffee shop gift card or seeing our name in a newsletter. And while volunteering may get us as seat across the table from the President of the United States (which is an incredible honor to be certain), we would volunteer even if that moment never were to happen.
I certainly have been fortunate in these last nine years to meet incredible volunteers in my own community as well as across the United States. Volunteers in our schools who spend their Friday's popping popcorn and helping tutor students. Volunteers who fill backpacks with food so children don't go hungry on the weekends. Volunteers who speak up at school board meetings or who attend rallies at their State capitols. I've meet volunteers who create book drive programs, apps for cell phones to increase family engagement opportunities, write blogs or articles about how to create successful home to school connections. And while these volunteers are not called Champions of Change they all are certainly worthy and deserving of that title.
It is unfortunately easy to measure the value and importance of one volunteer by looking at the actions of another. We should do our very best to not compare one's actions and activities in our communities with others who we know. We all have something to give and contribute. For example:
- Time: There are a finite number of hours in the day. We can spend them watching funny youtube videos and re-posting them on facebook or we can search the web to find information about a cause we feel passionate about and share that on our facebook page. And as a matter of fact, there is actually enough time in the day to do both.
- Talent: I cannot sew. I cannot cook. I cannot tap dance. However I can write, pick up a phone and make a call, I can run in a 5k, and I can sing karaoke for a fundraiser. And I have friends who can sew, cook, and even tap dance. We all have talents that are unique and specific to us. In this world someone, somewhere needs your "uniqueness" to help their cause.
- Energy: I have a crazy metabolism and can convert the smallest amount of food into an incredible level of energy. I also drink coffee (as if it is the sweet elixir of life) and need very little sleep. Thus I can write a blog post at 2 am and still be ready for the first load of laundry at 6 am. My point? We all have obligations and commitments that take up certain amounts of our energy. But many volunteer organizations might need you to contact local officials (or State, or national leaders) and you can do that, via email, at all hours of the day and still have enough energy left over to run a 5k or run your kids to soccer.
- Effort: it matters. The truth is, in volunteering the thought doesn't count. You can think all the good thoughts you want about wanting to change the world, but if you don't get up off your couch and actually do something, anything, then nothing will ever change. Your effort doesn't have to be Herculean, it just has to be.
There is a saying "I'm drinking from my saucer for my cup has overflowed." There are days where I may not like the taste of what is in the cup, but I still have something in my cup, and in my saucer. I have a supportive and encouraging family who help me pack my bags when I have to head to DC for another Department of Education meeting or a Mom Congress event. I have volunteer support via VolunteerSpot which helps me organize all myendeavors. I have over 150 fellow Mom Congress delegates, UN Foundation Shot@Life champions, and close friends in my community who I have friends who inspire me with their stories of heroism and advocacy. I have children who make each day worth the living and for whom I selfishly want the very best of everything.
And I have a coffee shop gift card that says I made a difference by just wanting to make a difference.
And that makes me want to be the volunteer they believe me to be, today.
Read more from Myrdin including a write-up from when she met the President!