When I reflect on past volunteer efforts, my first visual is that core group. At the first meeting, each person took a seat around a table. The myriad personalities and backgrounds mimicked an encyclopedia of humanity. Each person joined the group with a personal agenda that ranged from passion for the nonprofit’s mission, to seek new friends, and maybe an effort to discover new opportunities.
Whatever the reason to volunteer, the collective goal was to address a need.
Local volunteer Ken Persinger recently spoke about volunteerism and its many formats.
“As I look around the room, I recognize Eve and all she has made and done for this church and its members. I know Carroll reads to young students. … Randy put new locks and handsets on the doors here. Alan and Henry help Cambria Anonymous Neighbors each month package food for our community’s hungry. Judy planted and maintains the shrubs on the north side of this building. Bill started, and Sabine now runs the electronics recycling. … The list goes on.”
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Volunteers seem to gravitate toward each other. I’ve met and continued relationships with interesting people such as Mike Land. Land is an expert in the field of community service, as an associate professor of English and director of community service learning at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.
Land took a cross-country road trip and chronicled his community service discoveries in his blog, www.servingthestory.com. I asked him, “Did you discover any surprises or circumstances that you did not expect?”
“As the trip unfolded, I found myself focusing more and more on the connection between awareness and action, and how each feeds the other. Without the satisfaction of being able to take some positive action, the awareness of the vastness of the problems out there can make people fall into feelings of despair, helplessness and cynicism. Some sensitive people can even check out of awareness altogether for days at a time, because they can’t get a positive handle on things. Whereas the action of volunteer work, or even taking a job in a cause-driven nonprofit, both fosters awareness and makes that awareness easier to handle. The many people I met working with immigrants on the border, or the homeless on the West Coast, or with the environment, or other causes, radiated a positive energy about what they were doing, even when talking of the odds against change.”
Positive energy! If ever there were a time for positive energy, now is the time.
The Community Service page from UC San Diego sums up the top 10 reasons to volunteer:
10. It’s good for you. Volunteering provides physical and mental rewards. It reduces stress … enhances moods and emotions, like optimism, joy, and control over one’s fate.
9. It saves resources. Volunteering provides valuable community services, so more money can be spent on local improvements.
8. Volunteers gain professional experience.
7. It brings people together. As a volunteer you assist in uniting people … to work toward a common goal and build camaraderie and teamwork.
6. It promotes personal growth and self-esteem. Understanding community needs helps foster empathy and self-efficacy.
5. Volunteering strengthens your community. As a volunteer you help support families (day care, elder care), improve schools (tutoring, literacy), support youth (mentoring, after-school programs), and beautify the community (beach, park cleanups)
4. You learn a lot. Volunteers discover hidden talents. Volunteers learn about the functions and operation of government and can gain knowledge of local resources available to solve community needs.
3. You get a chance to give back.
2. Volunteering encourages civic responsibility.
1. You make a difference.
So how many volunteers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? OK, just kidding. However, Rick Hawley estimated it takes about 30 volunteers for the Greenspace Art & Adventure event (July 18); Tish Rogers said that her team recruits about 50 volunteers to showcase the 26th annual Non-Traditional Art Exhibition (July 19, 20) in Cambria’s Veterans Hall; and keeping the Cambria Kitchen Tour (July 25) alive to benefit Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, co-chair Joyce Renshaw counted 30 or more volunteers, including the 13 core volunteers who organized the fundraiser.
I count 110 volunteers for just three nonprofit events — each with a different scope. And imagine, each project began with a core group of people who took a seat around a table.