50 Thoughts: Three Cheers for Volunteers

I’ve never considered myself an over-the-top volunteer kind of gal. Truth be told, I’m fairly protective of what little free time I have. And if someone asked me if I am an avid volunteer, I’d likely look at them like they were crazy.

But now that I think about it, I kinda am.

Maybe it’s because I can’t quite put a finger on how I came to think it was important. I mean, sure — my mom was my Girl Scouts leader and remains really active with church activities, and my dad is the quintessential civil servant, working for HUD for decades, and VISTA before that. But volunteering — offering service of myself for others — wasn’t something I ever felt was browbeat into my persona.

Still, the desire and action has been there for as long as I can remember, bubbling on the subconsciousness. From participating in fundraising walks as a kid, to volunteering time at a center for grieving kids. From every “mom” role one can serve at school, from popping popcorn to organizing room parties, helping kids read and sitting on the PTA, I’ve done it. I taught Sunday School, I was a soccer and hockey mom and manager, I’ve timed at swim meets and organized team dinners, I’ve carried scenery for marching band competitions and chaperoned cross-country trips. JA, Meals on Wheels, you name it.

If I think about it, there are two overarching reasons I am willing to donate time, money and energy. And they lie on opposite ends of the spectrum.

One is entirely selfish. And it’s that it’s social. By getting involved, I’m making friends. Some of the best people to float through my life are there because I volunteered with them at one time or another. When I quit work to stay home after my third child, the every other Friday spent popping popcorn for the school PTA was a godsend — an opportunity to shoot the shit with another adult and get face time, even inadvertently, with my kids’ teachers.

When I was still working, volunteer committees were a great way to network. To meet other people and get to know my coworkers.

And with the activity-based volunteering, it was again, a chance to make another circle of friends, all while keeping one eye on my kids. My hockey mom circle, marching band circle and swim circle all have been incredibly meaningful, especially as you get older and high school and college friends are harder to stay in touch with over time.

The second reason is decidedly more altruistic. And it’s this — if you don’t step up to volunteer, who will? There are two places in particular that I am so glad I was able to be a part of the organization. One was Ele’s Place in Michigan — a nonprofit designed to provide care to grieving kids. When I lost my birth father at 12, I remember going to a similar program, and knowing I could easily empathize with these kids, well … I just wanted to help. The other is Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit offering girls in 3 – 8th grade a program that teaches confidence and resilience wrapped up in a train-for-a-5K experience. I was a girl that never thought she could run. And in my late 30s and early 40s, when I discovered I could run, and that the feeling that comes from crossing a finish line and accomplishing something is so fulfilling, I wanted to share that with my daughter and other girls her age. I snagged a co-coach, made another great friend, and together we helped upwards of 50 girls find their confidence over the course of three years. And I know some of them continued running into high school. Yay!

At the end of the day, I wish everyone would find their volunteer groove and slip into it for awhile. People need you. And stepping up isn’t just a benefit to the organization you choose to help, it’s immensely gratifying on your end as well. The friends you make and connections forged are priceless. The next time someone asks if you can help out, lean in instead of out.

Day 1: 50 Days, 50 Thoughts, 50 Books. Book recommendation: The Bitch is Back

Day 2: There Aren’t Any Do-Overs, Are There? Book Recommendation: A Place for Us

Day 3: Is Pop Culture Circling the Drain? Book recommendation: Live from New York

Day 4: Perimenopause in the Age of Trump Book Recommendation: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Day 5: Take A Knee at the Altar of Common Sense Book Recommendation: How Not to Be a Dick

Day 6: Perspective is the Gift That Keeps on Giving Book Recommendation: A Fine Balance

Day 7: The Accidental Editor Book Recommendation: Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002)

Day 8: The First Last of the Firsts Book Recommendation: The Little Book of Hygge

Day 9: All Kinds of Tired Book Recommendation: Believer

Day 10: Overthinking is Anxiety’s Bitchy Best Friend Book Recommendation: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Day 11: Where Would You go with a Wayback Machine? Book Recommendation: A Little Life

Day 12: Fall in my Favorite Chicago

Day 13: On Having It All Book Recommendation: Lean In

Day 14: Where Were You When … Book Recommendation: The Nix

Day 15: 5 Things to Purge Before you Turn 50 Book Recommendation: The Art of Tidying Up

Day 16: A Labor Day Salute to Bad Bosses Everywhere Book Recommendation: Steve Jobs

Day 17: Do You Validate?  Book Recommendation: Less 

Day 18: Identity Crisis Code Purple Book Recommendation: Amp’d

Day 19: Character Really Does Count Book Recommendation: Believer

Day 20: Death Before Public Speaking Book Recommendation: The Gifts of Imperfection

Day 21: 15 Things You Should Do Before You Turn 50 Book Recommendation: Drop Dead Healthy

Day 22: Calling BS on “Sticks and Stones” Book Recommendation: Love Warrior

Day 23: My Feet Are My Favorite Part of Me Book Recommendation: Born to Run

Day 24: Self-Help Books Aren’t Half Bad  Book Recommendation: The Book of Joy

Day 25: Going for Gratitude Book Recommendation: The Gratitude Diaries

Day 26: Past Self Meets Future Self Book Recommendation: A Wrinkle in Time

Day 27: The Book is Always Better Book Recommendation: Big Little Lies

Today’s recommendation: A Secret Gift by Ted Gup. It’s not so much about volunteerism as it is about generosity, but they’re similar means to an end. Both ultimately make a huge difference for others.

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