The celebration of National Volunteer Week 2014 begins in just a few days on April 6. While this is a time set aside every year to recognize the individuals already volunteering in our communities and to remind ourselves what an enormous impact they have, it can also be a time to consider volunteering yourself.
Volunteering is the backbone of many organizations. It is especially true in health care. Doctors, nurses and support staff have some of most important jobs in the world; they take care of the people most precious to us when they are at their most vulnerable.
Thanks to volunteers, health professionals have additional time to take care of patients’ medical needs, to do research and to attend to a myriad of other responsibilities.
Volunteers come from all walks of life, and all are welcome for the unique experiences they bring with them. The two groups that most often lend a hand are students and our elders.
Although most young volunteers are seeking opportunities to fulfill their community service requirements, some find the experience very rewarding and stay on. Their interest is piqued, and they want to learn more. Many are ready to take on new challenges and leave after a semester or two.
Volunteers from the “greatest generation,” meanwhile, tend to stay year after year after year and build relationships with other volunteers, staff members, patients and residents. It’s not unheard of for someone to volunteer for 40 or 50 years in the same organization. This is wonderful for the people being helped, but also wonderful for the volunteers themselves, who are committed to giving back to the community and find volunteering a fulfilling experience.
There are many ways to donate time to a group. Sometimes people like to use the skills they have developed during their careers. Others choose the opportunity to learn new skills, while still others give of their time so that they can be creative and turn hobbies, such as knitting and arts and crafts, into ways that genuinely brighten the lives of others.
Volunteering is also a good approach to stay mentally and physically active. Howard Platt relishes his role of visiting patients in their hospital rooms to talk or to bring them a crossword puzzle or prayer book.
Joanne Levy echoes him: “I do it for the pure joy of helping others.”
Minnie Daniels, meanwhile, says that she enjoys volunteering to keep busy and because she has a lifelong devotion to the hospital where she volunteers.
If you are interested in volunteering and unsure where to begin, start by thinking of a cause that you are passionate about. If you love animals, a local animal shelter is a great place to inquire. If you want to help children, the library or local schools can be good places. If you would like to offer comfort and support to people coping with serious illnesses, your local hospital might be just what the doctor ordered.
There is no wrong reason to volunteer and no shortage of need for volunteers. A chance to be of service, to understand that you are making a difference and to have some fun can be wonderful ways to spend some of your free time.
To all who are already using their valuable time for the invaluable experience of volunteering: Thank you!
Robin Evers is the director of guest relations and volunteer services at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, a LifeBridge Health Center.