I am a somewhat spiritual person, but I really don’t believe in any organized religion. Which is why it’s pretty darn funny that one of my greatest beliefs comes from a verse in the Bible (Luke 12:48, to be exact). The Bible has been translated millions of times, but one common version is, “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”
I feel as though in my life, I have been given much – smarts, compassion, dedication, not to mention a loving family, husband, pets, a bevy of great friends, and a moderately successful career. With all of these riches, my debt to the greater world is deep and I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the years seeking to pay it.
I have done a lot of volunteering. A LOT. I absolutely love it. It’s generally hard work, but there is little that fills the soul more. In addition to doing some good for others, it’s a great way to meet friends, learn new skills, or experience new places.
I hope you might be reading this and thinking at the same time, “I’ve been given a lot; I should do more!” You should! And wouldn’t you know it, I have some suggestions for you from some of my all time favorite volunteer experiences.
Do you have an hour a week? Help develop a kid’s literacy skills and build his or her self esteem by reading a story aloud over lunch. I read to kids for over seven years in a program like this. We all know that reading is important, but did you know that children with strong reading skills are less likely to end up in jail and are less of a drain on our national health systems? Seriously. One hour a week with a kid can help our society. Not a bad ROI. Check out Read to a Child for more.
Do you have two hours a month? Give out food to hungry families. One of the most rewarding things I have ever done is to help set up a mobile pantry and dole out much needed food and groceries to students and parents at a school in a low-income section of Boston. Food is a basic fucking need. The fact that people in this country go without is outrageous. Contact your local food bank and do something about it.
Do you have two or three days a year? This country has seen some SAVAGE natural disasters in the last few years – Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin tornadoes, California wildfires, Hurricane Sandy. Every time one of these things hits us, it leaves a wake of physical and emotional need for years to come. Sign up with the local chapter of the HandsOn Network in any of these areas and they’ll have no trouble putting you to work in human services or rebuilding property for a few days.
Do you only have a couple of hours a year? Decorate a youth shelter for the holidays. Being a teenager sucks in general. I seriously can not imagine the pain of being a homeless teen. Living in a shelter with little privacy, too few warm clothes, and beaten down common areas for eating, studying, and entertainment? It’s heartbreaking. A small, but meaningful gesture that you can do for these kids is to help decorate their space for the holiday season. I did this project for several years as part of Harpoon Helps in Boston. But even if this doesn’t exist near you, go buy a tree, a couple of strands of lights, and some bulbs and drop them off.
Truly, any amount of time you have can be put to good use and I’d love to see everyone get out there and give something back. If you don’t have a second to spare (I know that feeling), money is always good too – donate generously to your favorite cause.