Volunteering an invaluable community asset

by Monika Salvage
October 22, 2017
Published in The Citizen

What motivates people to volunteer? Certainly not an abundance of time because most volunteers I know lead incredibly busy lives. Still, they find and make time for the cause(s) of their choice. Why? To some, it may be important to give back to the community they live in. Others wish to make a difference in other people’s lives. Some choose to share their skills and expertise for a cause they are passionate about. And yet others may be interested in the companionship and collaboration supporting a common goal can provide.

However, many people choose not to volunteer. Studies suggest that three out of four Americans don’t volunteer. And there are good reasons for that as well. Some feel they just don’t have enough free time between work, family and other commitments. Volunteer and meeting times are often demanding and not flexible enough to accommodate their schedules. Others wouldn’t even know where to start looking for volunteer work. Some think volunteers do low-level tasks that are not meaningful enough to use their spare time for. Yet others simply haven’t been asked.

There is a lot organizations have to do when it comes to community outreach – provide adequate information about volunteer opportunities through various outlets, describe the available positions and associated tasks and what skill sets are needed, make the actual ask for service and ensure flexibility to accommodate people’s varying schedules. Should every organization fend for itself or do we need a common place where all this information is provided, regularly updated and readily available for interested individuals in our community?

While research shows that volunteering elevates one’s mood and increases one’s sense of accomplishment and social interactions, volunteerism also plays a fundamental role in an organization’s ability to advance its mission and objectives by being able to serve more people in the community, which in turn has positive economic and societal implications. There is also no age limit to volunteering. Children and youth can develop important life and leadership skills by becoming involved through their schools or clubs, adults can diversify their social circle by supporting a certain cause or event that is dear to them, some employers even provide paid time for their employees to volunteer. And it doesn’t have to stop when you retire either because studies suggest that people who volunteered already during their working life are more likely to continue after they retire.

Whether your heart belongs to youth, education, animals, human services, the arts or community beautification, volunteering brings people together, helps you grow as a person, makes you aware of community needs, teaches you how nonprofits and governments work, and helps you sharpen your skills and knowledge. You may choose to volunteer for a school’s parent-teacher organization or a fundraising campaign, serve on an event planning committee, a board of directors or even decide to run for public service. One is not better or more important than the other. It just depends on the time commitment you are willing to make, the responsibilities you are willing to take on and the skills you are willing to share.

Community and public service are as important and critical to our society as ever. Stagnant funding and increasing need for services make the work of volunteers an invaluable component of every nonprofit organization that seeks to improve people’s lives and fills the gaps in services. Public service is at the core of our country’s principles and ensures that ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We want local, state and national leaders who stand up and make our government stand out.

Most people don’t plan to become a community or civic leader; they most likely grow into it over time by seeing a specific need, showing up, helping out, and liking it. Some may see community-wide needs that they think they can help solve and decide to run for public office. I commend everyone who is making the commitment to dedicate a significant amount of his or her time to serve the public. It is always easier to criticize from the sidelines, but stepping into the not always flattering spotlight and being willing to do your part to make this community better takes courage and stamina. On November 7 it is up to us to decide who is best suited to represent us on the Auburn City Council and the Cayuga County Legislature. Don’t miss this opportunity to do your civic duty and vote.

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