A word, when I was growing up, that brought to mind candy stripers pushing magazine racks through the hospital or someone ringing a bell outside the supermarket during the holidays, asking for donations.
But looking around as a "grown up," I see volunteers everywhere. Volunteers sit on boards of local nonprofits, they give their time in our children's schools, they make cookies for the troops in Iraq. They give of their time and resources in so many unique and personal ways. And in our community, there are a myriad ways to give back. How to choose where best to put your time?
For me, the answer has come rather easily, over time.
While I have given of my time to the schools where my son has attended, as well as time and energy to the Blue Mountain Humane Society Board, I have probably spent the bulk of my volunteer time with Children's Home Society of Washington (CHS).
Knowing the struggles of parenting and raising kids to be their "best selves," in our current culture I have found within CHS's core programs and services a fit with what I value and see beneficial in the conversation about what it means to create a world where all children thrive.
CHS services provide for the support of parents through the partnership with the Exchange Club in the HomeTeam parent aide program, the concrete helpfulness of individual counseling and parenting classes, the after-school program at the Farm Labor Homes, and a focus on early learning through the Early Head Start program.
Combined, these services (and more) reach more than 1,100 children and families each year in our Valley.
Volunteering, for me, is a way to bring my particular skill set to an organization and help impact lives. And the beauty is, anyone's skill set can find a home, if you just look for it.
I don't have to be on-site at the Farm Labor Homes or involved in mentoring with HomeTeam (though that's always appreciated too!) to make an impact. I know that the decision making, fundraising and staff support provided by my being on the local council impact the organization and help move it forward in its mission.
The annual CHS SweetHearts for Kids luncheon is the first way I became acquainted with Children's Home Society.
A friend who was on the council invited me to the very first luncheon in 2002 and I attended, not knowing: a) what a fundraising luncheon was really all about, and; b) what CHS was really all about.
I learned a great deal at that first event, and continued attending year after year. By 2005, I found my interest had increased to a place where I asked, "How can I get involved?" Sweet, sweet words to a non-profit organization's ears.
This year our SweetHearts for Kids luncheon on Feb. 16 at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center features the Valley's own Lawson Knight, executive director of the Blue Mountain Community Foundation, a vibrant speaker and true humanitarian.
The SweetHeart's committee is working hard to make the event our best yet, under the watchful direction of SweetHeart's chair Scott Peters, marketing manager for Columbia Rural Electric Association.
There will be a silent auction before the event from 11 a.m. to noon, with goods and services from many local retailers, wineries and restaurants.
At noon the luncheon will kick off with a couple of songs by the Garrison Middle School choir, followed by a brief program will follow that.
You'll hear about the programs and services of CHS, and hear stories of how they have touched the lives of individuals and families, and have an opportunity to give to the cause.
If, like me, you see a fit for volunteering, the ways you can give are many.
If you've always wanted to help children in the community, CHS is one of several organizations in the Valley that can use your time and talents, wherever they lie.
TO GET INVOLVED: SweetHearts for Kids luncheon, Feb. 16, 11:00 a.m. Call Debi Allessio at 529-2030 for tickets or business sponsorship opportunities. Tickets are $40 each and all proceeds go directly to helping the children and families in our community.