SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Awareness of others fosters desire to serve

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As I contemplated a fresh approach to encourage readers to get involved in National Volunteer Month -- which is April -- I also prepared for a workshop aimed at increasing staff awareness of volunteerism in our organization.

I realized that there are two elements of volunteerism to consider: the personal, intimate reasons why people volunteer and the "business" side to volunteerism.

While I find that delving into the psychological and physical benefits of volunteering much more intriguing than the "business" side, I recognize that without organizations that place a high value on volunteerism, there would be fewer opportunities for individuals to get involved.

Reasons for involving volunteers in your organization are many.

Adding diversity, bringing a community perspective, focusing on a particular issue or client, experimenting with new ideas and service approaches, bringing more time, talents, and hands to the organization and allowing the budget to be extended are just a few of the benefits to having volunteers.

I encourage organizations to prepare for engaging volunteers by considering areas such as resources, staffing, training, supervision and recognition.

Now back to encouraging others to volunteer. I prefer to use the term "serving others" instead of volunteering. It seems personal, not so institutional.

I believe that the desire to serve others grows as your awareness of others grows. To be aware of others we need to think less of our circumstances and ourselves.

Ironically, giving of yourself to benefit others is actually about receiving. Getting our minds off ourselves and working for the good of others is just what we need to give us strength to stay well or get well.

It also reminds us that we are not the only ones with problems. According to liveyourlifewell.org, research indicates that those who consistently help other people experience less depression, greater calm, fewer pains and better health. They may even live longer. Helping others gives you a feeling of connectedness, helps you feel needed and effective, takes your mind off your own worries, gives you a feeling of being generous and adds a sense of purpose and meaning to your life.

Don't feel like you have to make grand gestures or huge time commitments. Helping can mean serving meals at the Christian Aid Center every week but it can also mean calling a friend to see how she's doing, serving your spouse breakfast in bed, letting a car go in front of you, smiling at a stranger in the street or holding the door for your co-worker.

As author Sally Koch, once said, "Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily." Starting with small acts of kindness forms your heart to that of a servant and transforms your mind to consider others before yourself.

As you feel led to make a more formal commitment to service, you will find that there are many wonderful agencies and organizations with worthwhile missions in our valley.

Our community is blessed with many people that have servant hearts. I have the privilege of visiting with many of them at work each day.

Gilda Paige is one that quickly comes to mind. Gilda volunteers in the pre-diabetes class at the YMCA. At one point in her life she was angry, confused, frustrated and depressed because of medical issues she faces. Someone reached out to her with care, encouragement and information.

She feels like her life was given back to her and now wants to give back to others. She refers to the members of the class as her "kids" and is as proud as any parent when they bring in good reports from their doctors.

Gilda is reminded each morning, when she wakes up in pain, why she needs to get up. "I have people counting on me." She said working with her "kids" helps her get away from the pain and eases her depression. "I need them as much as they need me."

Is the world a better place because you are here?

Strive to live a life of service; go out of your way to be kind to someone today. Kindness is rewarding. Giving is a condition of healthy living.

Susan Anfinson received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington State University in Recreation Administration. She has been working at the Walla Walla YMCA for 16 years. She currently coordinates volunteers, directs senior social events and other special events.

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