You guys, April is National Volunteer Month! This is particularly exciting as it comes on the heels of MLK day, Black History Month and Women’s History Month. The beginning of each year is jammed packed with opportunities to think about how to get involved in, continue to, or amp up our community service work. This of course should never stop with one month or even a series of months, but it always wonderful to highlight all of the occasions we have to serve.
Dating back to the Nixon Presidency, there have been many executive orders and proclamations centered on honoring our nation’s commitment to service and each other. Last year, President Obama declared April 10 through April 16, 2016 as National Volunteer week. This year, volunteer week will fall on April 23-29, 2017. Overall, we typically celebrate volunteer service the whole month of April.
I’ve always liked engaging in volunteerism because so much of my early life was steered in a positive way by people who invested their time and energy in me in the most self-less of ways. From my after school program counselors, to private sector companies that provided money to education focused non-profits that I was able to participation in, I really do consider myself a product of investment in public education. My mom immigrated to the United States from Ghana in the 1970s; I’m forever grateful that she was able to get a visa and birth and raise her children here. Suffice it to say that my life would likely look totally different if she didn’t make that journey. As I was growing up, her favorite mantra to recite was “America is an opportunity country”. She literally said this bi-weekly (to my chagrin at the time). Our country has so much work to do in making that opportunity equitable for everyone, but my love for all that is good about this nation is deeply rooted in those words.
So many of us already give back in various ways that are aligned with our individual values and spirit. This presents another opportunity to kick it up a notch! Here are a few ways to celebrate all that is wonderful about service and giving, particularly in these very interesting times we live in.
Thank a Volunteer
Take the time to appreciate the many people in your life who engage in various levels of service activities. Of course, the ultimate reward comes through serving the end user, but it’s extra special to be recognized and appreciated by folks you would least expect it from. So if you know a friend/colleague/family member that is involved with a cool organization, give them a public or private shout out.
Many volunteers will tell you it is such a rewarding experience. You don’t have to have a ton of time. If you have any special talent or skill that may benefit a charity or organization, please use it. Offer your services or ask how you can be of help. Research and contact an organization directly, or search websites like Volunteer Match or Just Serve. Many cities have a government office dedicated to service; search your city website for local opportunities.
Relatively straightforward and many of us already do this. There is certainly no shortage of organizations looking for money these days. While it’s great to donate to national organizations, but remember that local non-profits especially need support. The biggies, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are awesome, but your community refugee settlement organization, tutoring program, or clinic could also use some of that cash-money.
Tell Someone about a Cool Organization
If you are involved with organizations that you are passionate about, help bring awareness to them and the issue they are tackling. Tag them on social media. Caption a recent accomplishment. It may seem antithetical or ironic, but throw humility out of the window for a second and talk about what you do! You never know who may be reading or listening.
Do what you can (and pace yourself)
There is no rule book that guides volunteerism. Service comes in all forms. Many of us are often serving others without even consciously knowing it. Whether you are giving someone a genuine smile and hello, bringing food for after church service, or helping your young family member with homework, it all counts. Every act, no matter how big or small, routine or sporadic deserves our deepest gratitude. If you ever get stuck or overwhelmed about what to engage in, think about the following questions:
- What are the issues that I care about?
- What do I bring to the table that’s unique to my passion and/or skill set?
- Who do I know that is passionate about, or already involved in those issues?
To that end, THANK YOU to all the amazing, passionate, equity-focused people I’ve had the great pleasure of engaging with throughout my life. I am inspired and humbled by each and every one of you! You Slay!
Do you currently engage in volunteerism? What issues are you most passionate about?