Vail Daily column: The value of volunteering
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” — Unknown.
Wikipedia states that volunteering is generally considered to be an altruistic activity in which an individual or group provides services for no financial gain. What was left unsaid on Wikipedia, was that volunteering is about giving, contributing and helping other individuals and the community at large. It is working with others to make a meaningful contribution to a better community.
Multiple types of payback
Volunteering also impacts the organization being served, and many of these organizations work to promote and to improve quality of life. Of course, volunteers are hugely important to nonprofit organizations, as they provide governance, fiduciary responsibility and strategic visioning. The role of policy making and ensuring that nonprofits are adequately funded helps make our vibrant nonprofit sector as successful as it is, with organizations ranging in size and scope that result in immense positive impacts on our quality of life here in the valley.
Volunteering, in short, has far more payback than a simple altruistic, do-good approach. Volunteering is more than just something that nice people do — it’s something that anyone can do, and it’s something that everyone should do. Volunteers have an impact on the health and wellbeing of organizations and communities.
I consider myself somewhat of an expert on volunteering; I am fortunate to work with volunteer board members at Vail Valley Partnership and to also serve as a volunteer on a number of regional and statewide boards, committees and industry associations. As such, I’m qualified to say that volunteering also has positive benefits for the person who takes the time to volunteer. I’ve found that volunteering can expand your horizons, help you to meet people of influence with whom you wouldn’t otherwise cross paths, bring skills and expertise that will increase impacts and outputs, and as an added bonus, these people often become industry mentors and in some cases new and dear friends.
Make no mistake, volunteering isn’t one of the most plush, easy or glamorous of jobs, but it is one of the most beneficial and uplifting. Think of it like this: Volunteering is done on a person’s own accord. It’s taking some time out of your day to help others. Volunteer work makes us feel good. It builds self-confidence and lifts up the spirits.
The volunteer work that best envelopes this concept is taking an hour of my week to volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school. It is different than my industry volunteer work (where I offer expertise) in that the time spent in a third-grade classroom, reading with 8- and 9-year-olds, is certainly uplifting and rewarding in a way that other community service can’t match. It is grounding to spend time with these little human sponges and to help them tackle learning techniques and supporting the excellent work done by teachers in our school system.
One example from Homestake Peak School (which I’m confident is duplicated in spirit, if not in tactics) is that each third-grade student has a “friendship pie recipe” above his or her cubbie. The students have completed this work, and are reminded of it each day as they hang their jackets and put away their backpacks.
A sample “friendship pie recipe”:
A dash of happiness
A cup of love
A pinch of friendliness
A spoonful of joy
First, add a dash of happiness with a pinch of friendliness. Mix well. Then add a cup of love and a spoonful of joy. Bake in oven for 10 minutes and enjoy.
With all due credit to my 8-year-old, that pretty well sums up the value of volunteering (and of friendship). So, get out there and get involved. Stop stressing about the number of hours spent at work, and start giving back in some modest way. I am confident you’ll find the experience rewarding, be it volunteering in the classroom or volunteering for a nonprofit organization. And not only rewarding but fun. Yes, volunteering can be fun. Volunteer work is meant to be more than what most make it out to be — view it as less an obligation and more as fulfilling work that makes a difference in your community.
Thank you to those who volunteer their time and expertise in the community. Your efforts are appreciated, and you are making a difference.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.